Warning – possible spoilers! (Tiny ones, though, and I’ll try to avoid even those; I swear I’ll give my best not to ruin it for you… :-))
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – Book Details
TITLE – Ninth House
SERIES – Alex Stern, book #1
AUTHOR – Leigh Bardugo
YEAR PUBLISHED – 2019
PAGE COUNT – 459
MY RATING – 4.5 of 5
RATED ON GOODREADS – 4.04 of 5
Dark academia is one of my favorite subgenres. The school setting, the mystery, the esthetics, the gothic vibes… There are no many things that intrigue me more and that can ensure I’m going to pick up a book.
Plus, the blurb of this story sounded more than promising. And I am also a big fan of urban fantasy.
Long story short, Ninth House easily ended up near the very top of my TBR pile pretty much as soon as I got my hands on a copy. In fact, this was one of my most anticipated reads in the last couple of years.
The reviews of this book, however, were so confusing, I almost regretted checking them out. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such mixed opinions about any other book. Especially amongst my close friends and go-to book reviewers.
And the funny thing is – people I thought would love it ended up all but hating it. And people I was sure would be bashing it now say it’s one of their favorites.
So, my expectations were all over the place, to say the least…
What It Is About
“…the chance to show someone else wonder, to watch them realize that they had not been lied to, that the world they’d been promised as children was not something that had to be abandoned, that there really was something lurking in the wood, beneath the stairs, between the stars, that everything was full of mystery.”
Galaxy (Alex) Stern can see ghosts. So far, that only meant trauma on top of trauma for her, and the ways she tried to cope only pushed her further down the self destruction road.
But, after a particularly brutal event that left Alex a sole survivor, she is approached by the dean of the Lethe House at Yale University. He offers her a deal of a lifetime – a full scholarship to Yale in exchange for her joining a secret magical society that oversees all the other magical societies at Yale.
Several months later, Alex still struggles to keep up with the classes and is still learning about magic and her own role in this mysterious world. On top of that, she is trying to figure out what happened with her mentor Daniel Arlington (Darlington). And there is also a murder investigation Alex is a part of, that becomes more and more confusing the more she looks at it.
But the biggest problem with investigating magical secret societies – getting closer to figuring out who done it does not necessarily mean getting any closer to putting a stop to it all…
There are several trigger warnings for this book, you can check them out here.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – My Review
Man, what a start. That prologue was so gripping, it made me wanna just continue reading and forget that the rest of the world existed.
“Darlington liked to say that dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.”
But right after the prologue, you kind of get pushes into the story and it takes a moment to make sense of what’s going on. The first few chapters were a bit problematic to me.
Because, getting into the book, I only had the vaguest possible idea of what to expect. And it happened several times that I read whole scenes having no clue what I’m reading, then get an explanation after 10 or so pages.
And then, the details – honestly, I wouldn’t mind if there were less setting descriptions. Which surprised even me because – it’s dark academia, the setting is beautiful and mysterious and full of history; why wouldn’t I want to know more about it?
But in this case for some reason it didn’t quite work for me. Not that there was anything wrong with the descriptions. But they were kind of unnecessarily dragging the story.
“The window was open, letting in the bare beginnings of a breeze as twilight fell, and Alex felt like she was watching herself from the courtyard—a happy girl, a normal girl, surrounded by people with futures who assumed she had a future too.”
Plus, Bardugo certainly likes jumping between different timelines. Which is something that would drive me crazy with any other author. But for some reason, it never truly bothers me in her books. Her flashbacks are always interesting and really help me care about the characters even more.
Still, all the jumping around, going through the consequences of an event without actually knowing yet what had happened… It can be a lot. Just push through it, though, it’s worth it.
Luckily, it didn’t take me long to start caring for the characters, so that pulled me through that beginning. And once the story really starts – it is on, and I started flying through the pages, on the edge of my seat the whole time, wondering what is going to happen.
“Wait … I’m going to have to die?” She really should start doing the reading.
“And come back?”
“I mean, that’s the idea.”
I loved both the main characters and a few smaller ones. Kept comparing them with the Six of Crows crew. And I’m not sure which ones I liked more.
I think that the characters from Six of Crows were a bit more… memorable than the ones from Ninth House. But that was because they were very unique and spectacular, to the point where they were a bit cartoonish.
Alex was also a strong character, but she felt a bit more human and real to me. Because of that, I managed to connect with her a bit more, although I loved both crews very much.
“I thought they were people for a while, and it’s not like anyone pays attention to a kid talking to no one.”
In the world where everyone strives to be different, Alex is a bit too different. So much so that her childhood and teenage years had been filled with fear and shame and loneliness. And she almost didn’t survive it.
Then we have Alex on Yale, just given a second chance. Pushed into a world she doesn’t understand to keep barely surviving. Or so it seems.
Because everything that didn’t kill her during the early years did eventually make her stronger. And it was a wonderful moment when she finally started to realize that.
That she may not be as educated and refined and well-spoken as all these people around her. But when it comes to fight, and persistence, and real strength, and not giving up, she can top any of them.
That she doesn’t have to stop pushing. Because losing the chance she was given would suck, but she already survived having nothing.
Granted, she would occasionally come out as too edgy. She’s sometimes too much. But, considering everything she went through – I mean, you can see where it’s coming from.
“If she’d been a social butterfly, they would have said she liked to drink away her pain. If she’d been a straight-A student, they would have said she’d been eaten alive by her perfectionism. There were always excuses for why girls died.”
As for the murder mystery – not bad, Bardugo. Not bad at all. Whatever more I say might give you clues. So I’ll just say I loved that part and shut up.
I loved that the book didn’t end on a cliffhanger. The main issue got resolved and many questions were answered. Yet, there’s still enough left to make you keep wondering.
The story continues. And I don’t know exactly for when Bardugo plans the sequel, but guess who’s gonna be at the closest bookstore the minute it is out.
“Her map had been changed. Her coastline altered. Mors irrumat omnia. Death fucks us all.”
When it comes to the things I didn’t like, there was one particular thing that might be considered a spoiler, so I don’t want to talk much about it. And me preferring that it didn’t occur at all might be just me, I don’t know how other people have felt about it. But it was just one of those things that – the book might as well have gone without, so why?
Plus, I do feel obligated to stress out that this book was not perfect. It had several things that were a bit too convenient and then several more that could have been explained a bit better. So just to be clear – my 5 star rating is more a reflection of how much I enjoyed reading this story and spending time with these characters than anything else.
Because yes – despite its flaws, I really did like it that much. And all the people who didn’t like it – I mean, I see where they are coming from. But to me, Ninth House is one of those books where I don’t even care about technicalities, because my gut feeling screams – gimme more!
A new favorite for me!