Wow. I’m at a loss for words. Leigh Bardugo truly delivered on Ninth House. Magic, ghosts, curses, murder—this book has it all. And then some.
The world that Alex Stern, our main character, lives in is just like our own with one major exception: magic is real. Ghosts are real. The afterlife, hell, all of it is real. And that’s only the beginning. Dive head-first into the first book of Bardugo’s new Alex Stern series and find yourself confronted with the cruel living and ungrateful dead. Oh, and she can see the dead. She can see the Grays.
Plucked from her own living hell, Alex is transplanted to the elevated glory of Yale in New Haven, Connecticut. Here, the Ninth House, Lethe, oversees the “activities” of the other societies—the Ancient Eight. From attending prognostications to warding rituals, Lethe are the coppers of society life, meant to keep everything just so and prevent outward suspicion turning in.
But everything changes when Alex’s mentor, Daniel Arlington, disappears. Lethe is thrown into turmoil in attempts to cover up for Darlington’s disappearance while maintaining face with the other societies. Amidst keeping up appearances, Lethe is also trying to figure out where Darlington went, and how to get him back. But not even the dead seem to know where Darlington is.
Though Darlington is gone, Alex must still keep her feet firmly on the ground. Attending classes, reading assigned material (both Lethe and academic), and maintaining a social appearance are all necessary for her success at Yale. These tasks grow heavier and heavier as suspicion over Darlington’s disappearance increase. While communing with the other societies and increasing her rapport with members of her own cohort, Alex notices discrepancies amongst some of the society members.
Connections arise between members of multiple societies and a local murder victim. The further Alex digs, the deeper her own grave becomes. Paranormal attacks, life-threatening rituals, and extortion are only a few of the challenges Alex experiences—and creates. As suspects dwindle and the threats appear closer and closer to Lethe, is there anyone at all that Alex can trust?
And who killed Tara Hutchins?
Leigh Bardugo went! off! with Ninth House.
Her plot is impeccable and she keeps readers guessing at every turn. She makes sure to remind the reader (and Alex) that she goes to school and mundane, academic scenes come peppered in amidst the paranormal chaos. It seems real and I think that’s what makes this book so incredibly special.
Along with that, Bardugo doesn’t pander to the reader. She doesn’t waste time babying us by explaining every single detail about how the world works, how magic works, and why it exists. It just does. It’s simple and it’s incredibly effective. It’s easy to get caught up in the first few chapters, though. With how much information is introduced in the beginning, it can be a bit hard to keep track of. The societies alone with their names and nicknames (Scroll and Key, Locksmiths; Book and Snake, Lettermen; etc.) are confusing and I found myself trying to remember the exact details of each.
Throughout the story, however, everything sorts itself out. It becomes clear who the major players are and which societies fade into the background. Bardugo keeps the action neat and tidy while keeping the reader engaged and interested. I swear there is hardly a dull moment throughout the entire book.
I greatly appreciated Bardugo’s character descriptions too. And I love that she doesn’t try to bring any light into Alex’s description. Her eyes are black. Not raven tinted with shadow, not dark navy that could be black—her eyes are black. Period. Full stop. It’s a fantastic change from characters that have some sort of arbitrary highlight (literally) to them; no brown eyes tinged with streaks of gold and green, no black hair that catches navy highlights in the sun—none of the bullshit. Black hair, black eyes. Done.
There were moments where the action seemed to be held at a tension for a while, where it could have gotten a bit boring if it had been held out for too long. Bardugo used this to her advantage, though, and crafted a sense of unease and anticipation for the reader. What do you mean you can’t find Daisy’s ghost? How can he not be dead?! It creates a growing panic both in Alex and in the reader.
Fantastic. Phantasmic. I’m hooked. I absolutely cannot wait for the second book to come out which, according to Goodreads, is set for June 1, 2021. I’m gonna go cry in a corner while I wait for the next book.
Seriously, if you’ve been on the fence about whether or not to read Ninth House, do it. It’s thrilling, chilling, and leaves you wanting for more. Follow Alex down the rabbit hole or, to be more accurate, the demonic dimension-shifting portal hole. Good luck!
PS. I also cannot get over all of the cover variations for this book. They’re all so beautiful and I want all of them. *screams in cover art*