Review: Ninth House (#1) by Leigh Bardugo

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Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?
Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

It’s no secret that I love Leigh Bardugo. I’ve read most of her books (excluding the Grisha trilogy) and I adored them. But from the release of Ninth House, I knew it would be different. I heard how dark this book was, the reasons it was published as adult fiction rather than YA. But I heard Leigh talk about it a few times at signings and talks late last year, and I really, really wanted to pick it up. She drew me in.

I found this book really tough to read but so alluring. I will warn you now, it is incredibly difficult to read in a lot of ways. Some of the scenes shocked me and disturbed me, and definitely need a warning. This book was not without gruesome scenes that really grossed me out.

Peace was like any high. It couldn’t last. 

But unfortunately it wasn’t just the gruesome scenes that made it difficult for me. I cannot hide the fact that I was just…confused. I don’t think the non-linear timeline and flitting points of view helped at all, I never quite knew what was happening or could grasp enough about the story to feel like I could completely understand.

Despite finding the story confusing, I couldn’t deny the writing was spectacular as always. I liked the pacing, which was slow but some of the fast paced scenes made up for it, gripping me on the edge of my seat in those occasional moments. I also loved the setting, which reminded me slightly of The Starless Sea. Having known Leigh Bardugo went to Yale herself, I could tell the passion she felt using her own University to set Ninth House in.

I loved Alex and the cast of characters in general. Darlington was great too and I really liked Alex’s friends and roommates as secondary characters. Bardugo does a great job of describing the way some rich white males feel in relation to privilege and power, and how they can use their privileges to whatever they feel entitled to, however soul-curdling those things may be. Bardugo does not hold back on these issues, and for that I appreciated her writing.

It was an illusion, something that could be interrupted in a moment and lost forever.

I did enjoy this book, but I also felt a disconnection from it that I wish I didn’t feel. Maybe I had too high expectations. Maybe I just prefer her YA fantasy. However I will definitely be reading the next book in the series, and I’ll be interested to see what my opinions of this book are when I reread it in future.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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