Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
It is no secret that I gravitate toward dark aesthetic. While it may not be what my brand exudes, it is a personal favorite of mine. Dark and moody aesthetics influence everything from my makeup choices, to my wardrobe, and even my Lightroom presets. Needless to say, I was immensely excited about Ninth House the minute I heard Leigh talk about it.
Overall, this book did not let me down. It is widely different from the Shadow and Bone trilogy as well as the Six of Crows duology. It is adult, gritty, and somewhat depressing, but most of all it is real. While there are obviously paranormal and magical elements – it is set in the real world, our world. It deals with real issues that are affecting people today including drug addiction, abusive relationships, mental illness, and rape and is not for the faint of heart.
We meet Alex (or Galaxy) Stern as she struggles her way through her first year at Yale. She is not educationally qualified to be attending an Ivy League school, but has gotten wrapped in the seedy underground of the secret societies that take place at Yale. See, Alex has something that makes her unlike anyone else, she can see and interact with ghosts (or Grays as they are known in this world).
Because of her talent, she was recruited by Lethe House, which is the organization that monitors and regulates the paranormal activity of the other eight houses of Yale. The other houses each dabble in different types of magic to further their agenda. In fact, the book opens with Alex attending a ritual that involves members of one of the societies analyzing the insides of a kidnapped hospital patient so they can predict the future of the NY Stock Exchange and NASDAQ markets. This is only one instance of this ritual, which seems to happen routinely for the last several decades and can have different outcomes like improving the ranking of member’s book on the NY Times Best Sellers list or making a mediocre pop song rise on the chart.
However, something during this particular ritual is… off. We learn that Grays routinely attend these rituals and are drawn to anything that makes them feel more alive like pain, emotions, sex, and the like. They are usually complacent mostly because no one can see them except Alex and as long as someone does not form a connection with them, they are harmless. However, something goes wrong and the Grays get upset and begin beating on their otherworldly barrier. They become completely agitated and Alex is concerned that they will become violent. Thankfully, after a minute, the chaos stops.
Shaken, Alex leaves after the ritual is completed – but finds that sometime during the night (rituals always happen on Thursdays) that a New Haven resident was murdered. Something about the death does not sit well with Alex and while she cannot prove society involvement, she thinks there is more to meet the eye.
As she investigates the death, we get flashbacks to her bleak previous life, before Lethe, and her induction into the society by her mentor Darlington (who disappeared before the start of the book). Could Darlington’s disappearance be tied to the murder of the New Haven resident? Alex intends to find out, all while trying to maintain her job as the resident mediator for the societies and Yale as well as get by as a student and maintain at least passing grades.
Ninth House was an incredibly engrossing read. While I find myself being fairly good at being able to predict what will happen by the end of the novel, this one I was not successful at. It reads as a mystery and one I was not successful at solving.
I thought Alex was a very different character, since I usually stay away from reading contemporary fiction she came across as much more ‘real’ than I am used to reading and I enjoyed the change. However, because it was so real, it is a fairly depressing book. Dealing with so many terrible things that happened in her life leads her to be fairly downtrodden.
I do not consider myself to be easily triggered, and I do not think I was ‘triggered’ from this book as much as I was just depressed during certain parts. This book explicitly describes rape, drug use, physical abuse, and death. It is not a book that should be for the faint of heart and you need to go into reading this with a clear mind and understanding of what this book entails. Some parts are graphic and hard to read, others are entrancing, but none of it is particularly up lifting.
I have seen some reviews complaining that it was boring read – let me make this clear... This is part one of a long series. Leigh herself has said she hopes to write five or six novels in the Alex Stern series, and honestly this book reads like book one of a long series to me. It sets the groundwork, and the lore that I am sure will be important in the following books. Does that maybe bog some people down, yes, but if you look at it from the perspective of it being one of five or six books it makes sense. Maybe, if you are someone who does not appreciate so much backstory, wait until one or two more come out so you can power read through several at a time.
I do think this book is absolutely worth the read. It is creepy and dark and the perfect October read. We end on a little bit of a cliffhanger and I want to know what happens to these characters as there are SO many questions left unanswered.
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/ 5 stars
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