Review | Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

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.

Ninth House was one of my most anticipated reads of 2019, given how much I enjoyed The Grisha series. I went into it knowing nothing beyond it being very dark and taking place at Yale, and I was excited to see what Leigh Bardugo’s “new adult” series would be like. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the expectations that I had.

I think that Ninth House could have benefitted from being told in a linear fashion, rather than relying on flashbacks to fill in details. Ninth House is almost entirely narration, and fell prey to a lot of info-dumping to explain the nuances of the societies and their rituals. This made for a very slow and dense read, and it took until the last ~100 pages for the story to progress beyond the prologue scene; at that point, I finally started to get into the story, but then it was over.

I really didn’t like Alex Stern. I very much understand why she’s closed off and hardened, given the amount of trauma that she endured, but I was never able to connect with her; she felt like a shell of a character whose background was only brought up when it was convenient to further the plot. I much preferred Darlington, who had more of a personality and made a greater impression despite his limited page time.

There were a number of disturbing scenes dispersed throughout Ninth House which felt like they had been included solely for shock value or to show Bardugo’s departure from YA; these scenes were brushed past so quickly that they failed to have any emotional resonance, and they didn’t add to the story’s development beyond showing how awful people can be.

Overall, Ninth House was really hard for me to get into, and it did not live up to my expectations. I’ll still read the sequel, but I’m less excited about it than I normally would be with a Leigh Bardugo book.

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