A huge congratulations to Leigh Bardugo for winning Goodreads’ Choice Awards 2019 in the Fantasy category. With over 50,000 votes, Ninth House topped the charts over Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea, George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, and Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree.
I’m familiar with Leigh Bardugo and her Grishaverse novels, though I admit that I haven’t read them. Though sci-fi and fantasy are my favorite genres, I tend to stay away from young adult novels (which I’m told is a huge mistake. But, alas.) Her books, however, have won high praise from her audience, and I’m thrilled that she’s taken the plunge into a new—how to put it? Audience-genre? Bardugo hasn’t moved away from fantasy as an overarching genre, but Ninth House is decidedly dissimilar than her young adult series. It is more mature, darker, and—I assume—more intense than her Grishaverse novels. This is, of course, speculation as I have not read her young adult books, but I have seen warnings posted by other readers to remind book-buyers that Ninth House is explicitly not a young adult book.
Intended audience aside, this book has a high bar to vault. With the success of her previous novels and blurbs from authorial legends such as Stephen King, Bardugo has to deliver on Ninth House. And while I’m only one chapter in (at the moment that I am writing this,) she’s doing pretty good so far*.
What I appreciate right from the start is that Bardugo isn’t pandering the reader. Instead of taking pages and pages of time to describe the world that she has created, she drops the reader in alongside Alex Stern, the main character, and lets the reader see and learn what Alex herself already knows. There’s no excessive description about how magic has come into this world—which is seemingly identical to our own, save for, you know, the magic part—and there’s no time wasted explaining why ghosts exist. There’s magic, and there’s ghosts. Period.
And in twenty-seven pages, I’m already quite intrigued. Divination on a living body, the presence of ghosts (called “Grays” in Bardugo’s world), and the presence of another, stronger, otherworldly being? I’m in. I’m super duper in. From what I can gather, it is not common for people to see the Grays, yet this is an ability that Alex Stern possesses in full. And although she can see them, she has been warned by another member of the secret society never to look at them or engage with them, lest they become attached.
I love it.
Rules and regulations can be so much fun if the author uses them correctly. Suspension of disbelief is only effective insofar as the author follows their own rules. Actions in direct contradiction to this shatter the delicate balance between realism and fiction and cause the reader to question the author’s intent and purpose. I imagine that Bardugo intends to use these directives throughout Ninth House. It may take the form of Alex being unable to rein in her impulses and look at a Gray which then attaches itself to her and cannot be banished. Or it may take the form of experiencing outward aggression from these otherworldly beings.
Whatever the case may be, Bardugo is taking time to set up boundaries and rules for this world, and I am curious to see where they lead the story.
*One chapter being literally only 27 pages, so, this praise is perhaps premature
P.S.: This book cover fuckin’ slaps.