Ninth House

by Leigh Bardugo

4.25 of 5 stars 24 ratings • 14 reviews • 82 shelved
Book cover for Ninth House

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Ninth House

by Leigh Bardugo

4.25 of 5 stars 24 ratings • 14 reviews • 82 shelved

The instant SUNDAY TIMES and NEW YORK TIMES bestseller, and Goodreads Choice Award winner, that Stephen King calls 'Impossible to put down'

The mesmerising adult debut from Leigh Bardugo. A tale of power, privilege, dark magic and murder set among the Ivy League elite.

Alex Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale's freshman class. A dropout and the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved crime - the last thing she wants is to cause trouble. Not when Yale was supposed to be her fresh start. But a free ride to one of the world's most prestigious universities was bound to come with a catch.

Alex has been tasked with monitoring the mysterious activities of Yale's secret societies - societies that have yielded some of the most famous and influential people in the world. Now there's a dead girl on campus and Alex seems to be the only person who won't accept the neat answer the police and campus administration have come up with for her murder.

Because Alex knows the secret societies are far more sinister and extraordinary than anyone ever imagined.

They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And, sometimes, they prey on the living . . .

'Ninth House is the best fantasy novel I've read in years, because it's about real people. Bardugo's imaginative reach is brilliant, and this story, full of shocks and twists, is impossible to put down' Stephen King

'Ninth House is one of the best fantasy novels I've read in years. This book is brilliant, funny, raw and utterly magnificent - it's a portal to a world you'll never want to leave' Lev Grossman, bestselling author of The Magicians trilogy

'Ninth House rocked my world. I could not get enough of Alex Stern, a heroine for the ages. With a bruised heart and bleeding knuckles, she risks death and damnation - again and again - for the people she cares about. I was cheering her on the whole way: from the first brilliant sentence of this book to the last' Joe Hill, bestselling author of N0S4A2

  • ISBN10 1473227968
  • ISBN13 9781473227965
  • Publish Date 1 October 2019
  • Publish Status Active
  • Publish Country GB
  • Imprint Gollancz
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 480
  • Language English


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Slightly fuller version on the blog.

This book has some known trigger warnings. However, if you're going to dabble in the dark academia subgenre, you're probably aware of the darker tones these stories bring. Still, for those dealing with personal traumas that they may not want to subject themselves to while reading this book, a quick warning that Ninth House does deal with violence, rape, sexual assault, murder, and drug use.

I have seen some reviews list every plot beat that's grotesque as a trigger warning, but I think that's a bit overkill and can be more damaging to someone who sincerely cannot engage with the details. So, if you think any of these bucketed categories aren't in favor of your mental health, please consider that (also this may not be the subgenre for you). Still, if you're squeamish and you've watched anything like Game of Thrones, this is manageable.

Now that that's out of the way...

Ninth House opens with a prologue in spring. We meet Alex Stern, a student at Yale who is a member of the Lethe House and works with the secret societies of the university, however, much of the story focuses on the Skull and Bones society. The Bonesmen host highly mystical prognostications, focused on economics and politics—everything you'd expect from Yale students linked to a secret society that functions on money and nepotism. However, Alex isn't quite like the rest of Yale or the Bonesmen. She's a high school dropout, with a rough past, who was accepted to Yale on a scholarship because she has a special gift: she can see the "Grays". The ghosts that haunt New Haven.

The setting is painted so vastly different between perspectives. For some, it's the failure of the elite—the city that can never compete with its ivy siblings. Some see it for the alive beast it is—filled with haunted memories, festering wounds where the money ran out. But this New Haven reflects the state of every college town: A castle gleaming in the center of mediocrity and underdeveloped life.

Bardugo does exactly what you want dark academia to do. It's not just an aesthetically pleasing setting, but it's a satirical commentary on the prestige of a university like Yale and those involved with secret societies. Ninth House executes on this satire well by making the primary point-of-view Alex's—a person who never thought she'd be in a place like Yale. She has earned the right to poke fun at the classism and the overall pretentious nature of the budding scholars around her. It makes the commentary feel organic, rather than having some well-off pseudo-intellectual nihilist sneering at their peers.

Darlington's perspective reveals a self-aware young man with elevated dictation and charisma. He understands the follies of his world while also delighting in them. I personally love a little self-aware pretentiousness. When he first encounters Alex, and her disdain for the behavior of the people around her, Darlington feels pangs of resentment and defensiveness. But he's aware that his world comes with privileges and mediocre understandings of what life outside of this mystical New Haven is really like. Especially for someone like him, who delights in sticking to Black Elm for as long as possible.

The descriptions are what gripped me the most. The way words like "sweaty" or "matted" depicted the grotesque nature of Alex's surroundings and states of being. Bardugo has a poignant way of creating an image in your mind with only a handful of words. Something I worry I'm often struggling to do. From the morning dew sticking to grass, to the way an open wound festers, Ninth House burns these illustrations into your mind. It's also why if this ever became a show or movie, my squeamishness might get the better of me. (I covered my eyes a lot in GoT, okay?)

I've seen some reviews state that they didn't like how reserved and lackluster Alex was by comparison of other characters. I don't agree with the idea that she was stale in any way. Forgetting the amount of cunning and action she took throughout the book, Bardugo does a great job of emphasizing the mystery behind her motives while giving you very exact reasons for why she is more withholding and stoic at times. We see this when one chapter pivots to Darlington's perspective. Through his eyes, Alex shifts between rigid and lively depending on the conversation and her environment, and the dread that follows her stare keeps him on edge. Throughout Ninth House, some of those layers peel back just enough to understand why she is the way she is. She's worn and ragged by time and abuse. She's having to use her survivalist skills to adapt quickly in a world she didn't earn through achievement or money. Yale has trapped her in this life of potential and academics while using her much as she had been used many times over.

While I want to rave about how much I loved Darlington, and even give more mention to the reasons why Alex is a great protagonist, I have to give a special shoutout to Dawes. Dawes appears, more or less, as an underdog in the story. She's seen furiously scribbling notes, highlighter markings coloring her knuckles, trying desperately to get her grad school thesis perfect. In the beginning, we know little of her. She's in love with Darlington, she's dismissive of Alex, and she's otherwise seen one-dimensionally. But Bardugo didn't allow Dawes to stay that way. She's cunning and caring, and while she's more timid than Alex, her expertise navigating this world and performing various rituals make her an important actor in this plot. Dawes could have easily stayed a one-dimensional character—grimacing at Alex once in a while, maybe occasionally knowing where to find a book that was missing—but she became much more than that. Allowing her character to be a player and not a passive observer in this story made me so very happy.

I'm doing my best to avoid spoilers, so this is all you're getting from me. But anyway, it's a tremendous mystery paranormal plot. I had a lot of fun.

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Nessa Luna 5 of 5 stars
I wasn't too sure what to think of this book at the beginning, but the more I got into it, the more I wanted to keep reading. I also didn't really like the dual timeline and the dual perspective, but I understand it was needed to tell the complete story. In the end, everything makes sense now and I need that sequel. I also want to know if MY BOY DARLINGTON IS OK.

Anyway, Leigh's writing is amazing as usual and I love her characters so so much. I felt that this book was quite balanced in between being character-driven and plot-driven and honestly that's the way I like my books.

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ibeforem 4 of 5 stars
Ninth House is Leigh Bardugo's first foray into the non-YA arena, and I think she does well. This is a dark, twisty, contemporary fantasy story set at Yale.

At this Yale, the secret societies all practice magic, and one society, the House of Lethe, is there to watch over them and keep them in line. Though "house" and "society" may be a little generous, as the House of Lethe seems to consist only of 3 members -- Virgil, the lead member; Dante, basically Virgil's apprentice until Virgil graduates; and Oculus, who maintains the residences and acts as research assistant. Peripherally, there is also Centurion, who is a liaison with the police force, and the Dean who watches over them all.

Galaxy (Alex) Stern has had a very hard life, until she is unexpectedly recruited from her hospital bed to come to Yale and be Lethe's Dante. Why Alex? She can see ghosts (Grays), which is very helpful in a world where ghosts may be trying to interfere with the magic being done by the secret societies. Alex's Virgil is Darlington (Daniel Arlington), a lonely young man who has devoted his life to becoming Virgil and figuring out how to see the ghosts himself.

The story starts out with Darlington and Alex working their first society ritual together, where the Greys get a little bit rowdy. Later that night, Alex is asked to check out the scene where a local girl has been murdered -- just in case it has to do with one of the societies. What we soon find out as the story weaves back and forth in time is that Darlington is gone.... somewhere.... and there is much more to the murder of this girl than first appears.

I thought this book was good, but it's not a quick read. The plot gets quite twisty and intricate, and sometimes you have to work a little to tell the differences between the houses. While there are some threads that are left untied, you get answers to some important questions. Overall I enjoyed it, and I will likely be reading the next one when it's released.

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Interesting start to a series for sure, but a tad too long. I enjoyed the writing and really appreciated the atmosphere that Bardugo created here. But it needed like 150 less pages.

I loved Darlington (what we saw of him anyway). Like a whole hecka lot. Kinda wish he was the MC we followed, because I didn't particularly like Alex. I don't feel she matured enough in this book, and she was a bit of a pain. Of course she had the most fucked up upbringing ever, so there's that. Seriously, what trauma didn't she deal with?

Also, Dawes was wonderful!!! Loved that character.

This story was enough to keep me interested for the next book, but I'm definitely hoping it's a more concise read.

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At the urging of a fellow reader, I gave Bardugo another chance since I was told this book was nothing like her other novels.

Thumbs up to Bardugo for creating an atmospheric New Haven and Yale that oozed off the page and engulfed the reader.

Thumbs down on the pacing and fitting the pieces of the plot together.

In the end, it was a slog to finish the novel to find the reveal underwhelming and puzzling.There were definitely not a enough clues about a certain character's true nature.

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moraa 3 of 5 stars
3.5 stars

The dead will rise.

I liked the novelty Bardugo brought to the table with this one, along with the untrustworthy characters and exploration of darker themes. The ending was great as well. I really want the second book now.

The first half was a little laggy though and things didn't pick up for me until we started to get a glimpse into what made Alex who she is today. I liked all the bits after.

I could rate this higher, as high as a 4, but I do not feel any inclination to do so.

CONTENT WARNINGS: drug use, sexual assault/rape

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catiebug 5 of 5 stars
This book was such an interesting experience for me and took me on quite the journey.

When I read the premise of this book, I immediately bought it on my kindle. It sounded intriguing and right up my alley. However, when I started, it's was so different than what I expected. The writing was different than what I was used to, but I also couldn't stop reading. I began to get the vibe that this was going to be a dark book and began to have mixed feelings about if I wanted to continue.

I ended up taking a break to go and read some reviews to help me decide and as I read them and saw all the trigger warnings, it made me a bit nervous. I'm not easily triggered, but some of the things could potentially make me feel uncomfortable reading. In the end, I decided to continue reading.

I'm so glad I did. It took me a couple of chapters to settle into the story, but once I did, I was hooked. It took me a few weeks to read, but I preferred this because I was so interested in the world and it was perfect for the spooky season and all the vibes.

I'm surprised at how much I loved this book and I can't wait for the next book to come out and to get back into this story.

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liz089 3 of 5 stars
I was really curious about this novel, I LOVE Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows series and enjoyed most of the Shadow and Bone series. Of course this is supposed to be completely different; this one is adult whereas the others are YA, but I did expect more of the gripping writing I got used to her other books.
It took me almost 3 weeks to get through this.
It is not a short story, just short of 500 pages, but that should not make a difference if a story is compelling enough. I had to push myself to continue and it only got some real action towards the last couple of chapters.
I did like the setting, the whole creepy haunted feeling that came with it.. But that did not make up for the rest of it.
I would like to give this one 3.5 stars, but since that is not possible I'm going for the 3, can't give this 4 stars, it was not good enough for me for that.
I am planning to read the next one, hope it will get better and like the way the story was going.

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littleread1 5 of 5 stars
Well that had a lot of layers to it. Ninth House is not a light easy story about a girl in her freshman year of college. It is a dark story about secrets, privilege, magic, and ghosts. I wasn't sure what to expect going in, but was hopeful I would at least be entertained. I was not disappointed.

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Ninth House isn’t just a story, but a world. Going it into, I really didn’t know what to expect. I’ve read all of Leigh’s work in the Grishaverse and also Wonder Woman, but I knew that this was going to be different with it being an Adult Fiction and the plot of it.
The beginning was a little slow, but that’s to be expected with a new series, you have to have an exposition, a foundation that the readers can look back and reference on. As the story progresses however you can see how the story is like a puzzle piece, one person won’t have all the answers but have four or five people talking and you might get somewhere.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book. I’m excited and nervous to see where Leigh goes with this and the progression of not only Alex but the other characters as well. I’ll definitely be looking out for the sequel and continuing this captivating story.