My rating: 3 of 5 stars
TW for the book: Drug Overdose, Murder, Sexual Assault
As Leigh Bardugo’s debut into Adult Fantasy, Ninth House is a stunning dark thriller that takes place on the modern day Yale campus. Be aware that this book may make you question your college apps however, as there is much murder and magic afoot.
The book follows Galaxy (Alex) Stern, a freshman with an unusual ability, through various timelines as she attempts to piece together the details of an oddly familiar murder and figure out how it relates to her mentor’s disappearance. You see, Alex is by no means qualified to study at Yale, but has rather been enlisted by a governing body that oversees the activities of the university’s ancient secret societies. It is through her ability to see ghosts, called Greys in the book, that Alex is recruited as Lethe House’s new Dante, serving under the previous Dante, now Virgil, Daniel Arlington. From a hospital bed after being found overdosed on the scene of a brutal killing, to controlling the magical powers of several groups of entitled rich kids at one of the most prestigious schools in the country, Alex Stern must fight for her life and the promise of a better future.
For the record, I wanted to like this book so badly, and even having finished it I still want to. The world-building is incredible and Leigh Bardugo once again proves that somehow she can still create new magic systems as well as lovable morally-grey characters. Alex Stern had potential to be among my favorite characters I’ve read in fantasy; she’s dynamic, persistent, and brutal while also remaining very human (ever when she is very much not). This book had all the makings to be a favorite and somehow it all just fell flat.
I am by no means a slow reader, but Ninth House took me months to conquer. It’s not that there isn’t plenty of hard-hitting action, but the back and forth between timelines quickly became dizzying. I found myself frustrated that another segment had gone by without answering my biggest questions, and even once they were answered, it didn’t feel satisfying. One of my biggest red flags for a book is whether it makes me question if I, the reader, am reading it incorrectly somehow. Too often I felt I was slipping off the hook, like the line itself was too taut for me to think about anything else.
Having said that, there are some truly gorgeous scenes in this book that stand extremely well on their own, and I think it is worth reading if you have the patience for a lot of unanswered questions. Just be sure to prepare yourself as Ninth House does explore some intense topics that might be upsetting, and that I was frankly unprepared for. —Review by James B. ’24
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