Books · Discussions

Ninth House, Dark Themes and Trigger Warnings

Before I start this post, I would like to put a quick disclaimer out there about what this post is going to be about. If you have been on Twitter over the past week, a fan of Leigh Bardugo or attended YALC then you may be aware of the recent revelations concerning Leigh Bardugo’s latest novel, Ninth House which is due to be released in October. This is post is not a hate post, it isn’t a post calling out for cancelling the book or Leigh Bardugo, this isn’t a post hating on Leigh or her publisher or anyone who has been commenting on this. Rather, this is just me sitting in my conservatory with my dogs deciding to write a post surrounding various topics that I have opinions on and hoping to create a positive conversation rather than focusing on the negative. Especially since I attempted a small twitter thread surrounding my concerns but I feel like my thoughts and opinions would be better explained in a blog post rather than multiple 280 character tweets.

ninth-house-leigh-bardugo-cover


Ninth House and Leigh Bardugo

Back in October of 2016, Random House announced that they had bought the contract for two adult novels written by YA author Leigh Bardugo. When this announcement was made Leigh had firmly stated that this was an adult novel and even then I was quite excited by it – however there was no release date given. However, flash forward to 2019 not only is there a release date but as well as Random House publishing her latest novel, across the pond Gollancz had bought the rights to publish Leigh’s first adult novel too. For me, I have previously really enjoyed Leigh Bardugo’s writing style and was very intrigued in now transitioning in reading her first adult novel – especially since now I am an adult – (shock horror and wishful denial and hoping to somehow be a teen again because adulting is hard!).

Since the announcement of Ninth House, Leigh has been constantly promoting and warning/reminding readers that this is her first adult novel. Not only that but Leigh has been incredibly honest to the fact that while writing Ninth House, she drew on her own personal experiences – a point which I will come back to later in this post.

This is where I can find no fault with Leigh at all – despite many calling out cancel culture on her and her work. Leigh has continuously made a point to emphasise that this book is not meant for her general YA audience and that although some people do read ahead or different levels despite that this novel is definitely not YA at all.


Ninth House and YALC

However, at YALC I was quite surprised to see that despite what Leigh had previously said about Ninth House that it was being promoted and raffled off and samplers being handed out at YALC. For those of you who perhaps are not in the UK or do not know what YALC is, then YALC stands for Young Adult Literary Convention. In essence, it’s a convention held at the same time at comic con to promote YA fiction and give readers of YA a chance to interact and engage with their favourite authors and friends.

Now I am aware that although YA tends to be targetted at 12 – 18 years old, a lot of readers of YA aren’t in this age category. I, myself am 21 years old but am still an avid reader of YA fiction and that’s ok. I don’t just explicitly read YA though, over the past few years I have broadened my horizons concerning literature and am now a huge fan of contemporary adult fiction, women’s chick-lit, crime and fantasy. So I am aware that there will have been many others attending YALC who like myself are a lot older than the actual targeted age group. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why Ninth House was being promoted but I feel like because of this there has now been a huge miscommunication concerning the novel and who it is the target market is. This was something I attempted to explain in my short twitter thread and once again I like to say I am no way attacking Gollancz because since the revelation of the content and need for content warnings has been something they have been addressing.


Ninth House and Miscommunication

Now, this is where I want to address my concerns over the promotion of Ninth House and fully explain what I mean by miscommunication from my original twitter thread. I think it’s something which needs a conversation around it and that is having authors who have originally written YA and transitioning to Adult novels – there needs to be a better promotion and warning to younger readers that these new books aren’t written for them and may contain content not suitable for them. This has been something I’ve seen done in the past and a lack of emphasis which has resulted in some readers following their favourite authors into the realm of adult fiction and darker themes when they are perhaps not ready too. This has happened to me when J.K Rowling released her first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, which undertakes many darker and more adult themes and yet it wasn’t from my recollection emphasised enough that this wasn’t something you could easily transition to from the Potterverse. Though this turns out positively for me because I was ready and able to read the themes featured in the book – although I was only fifteen and I am aware this would not be the case for everyone.

Despite Leigh actively tweeting and pointing out this is her first adult novel and it is filled with dark themes, I felt that by having the publishers promoting it at YALC sent the wrong message. I felt for some, it was a message that could be taken as that Ninth House is an easy novel to transition to from reading YA. Which is clear, since a list of trigger warnings has been released, that Ninth House is unlikely to be a book YA readers can easily transition to reading. Moreover, I feel that even when I approached the stand myself there were no clear warnings as to how dark the themes are in this book. It was only until days later when Booktuber Justine tweeted about the themes featured that the conversation started.


Ninth House: Dark Themes or Gross?

Following Justine’s tweet and the tweets of other’s who had been able to read early copies of Ninth House was it revealed how dark it actually was, with many tweeting further trigger warnings. It became clear that there had been another miscommunication because simply using the word ‘dark’ to cover so much is perhaps just not enough. But for those who have tweeted about the themes and commented that they are either: ‘disgusting’, ‘why would someone write that’ or even calling for it to be cancelled I would just like to say:

DARK BOOKS ARE JUST AS VALID AS ANY OTHER!

But also I would like to refer back to my earlier point. Leigh has stated that inspiration for Ninth House and writing it that she drew from her own experiences which is why I feel that by calling the book gross because of the subject matter is quite unhelpful especially as this links directly to her experience. Dark themes are needed. Dark books are relevant. Dark themes in books matter and are important to be seen in fiction – even if not everyone wants to read them.

However, I do feel that although trigger warnings aren’t customary in adult fiction that perhaps when the author is transitioning from YA that perhaps there should be exceptions. Particularly when concerning dark subjects such as; rape, child rape and explicit scenes which for some people can be seriously triggering but also as a preventative measure to show some YA fans about how dark the material is. This would be a good way of preventing younger readers from continuing wanting to read it and perhaps encourage them to wait before choosing to read Ninth House. 

As someone who is triggered by instances of child sexual abuse in fiction, having my friends and other tweet and talk about this content in Ninth House has allowed me to prepare myself. I still want to read the book but I am now prepared better for it, expecting it and so when I do read it and see it on the page I won’t be triggered or I know how much to skip over.

Dark themes are fine in books, there are equally as important as those with a happy scene and marriages and happily ever afters. Dark themes can allow for empathy to grow, they can allow survivors to process their own trauma, and also sometimes they are just an enjoyable read. Dark themes aren’t gross and if they aren’t for you personally then keep away – no one has to read something that they don’t want to. But I think it would be a good reminder to those to perhaps not call it out as ‘gross’ becuase these type of books can reflect some people’s actual expereicnes and help them process it. This also certainly includes the author!


Dark Themes, Trigger Warnings and Adult Fiction

I think I must watch something on Netflix at least once a day and no matter what I’m watching once I start a programme, always in the top left corner there are trigger warnings. I don’t know how long Netflix has been doing this but I really love that aspect because sometimes I watch stuff I’ve never seen before (instead of just rewatching all my favourite series) and having those warnings at the start of the programme can either; prepare me or give me the chance to watch something else instead. They are something I value having because they allow me to be aware of the content matter without being completely spoiled about the programme I’m about to watch.

After the revaluation of some of the themes featured in Ninth House were revealed I saw the conversation twist and turn on whether or not trigger warnings were needed. I saw people complain that it was adult fiction, that the use of the term dark was good enough term, that trigger warnings act as spoilers and I heard arguments for the use of trigger warnings. It made me curious why there would be such resistance to trigger warnings being featured – especially if they were to feature in adult novels.

Author N.J Simmonds uses trigger warnings in her novels and even tweeted about the use of them in her own novels as a way to prepare and protect her readers. Having a small section like this in the opening pages of any book, regardless if it is YA or adult fiction I think would be quite valuable. It would allow people to have the option to read to make sure there isn’t anything triggering in the novel for them and give me the choice who aren’t that bothered to simply continue on to the first page and read.

However, the topic of trigger warnings is one which I think will continue to be debated as many people have different opinions on whether or not they are warranted in works of fiction or not. From my personal standpoint – I feel that trigger warnings should at least be an option but especially when concerning YA authors transitioning to adult fiction. I feel this is important because there will always be some fans who feel that they are old enough and mature enough and when you just use the word ‘dark’ to cover subject matter tackled in the book this could be misleading and dangerous causing a younger fan to read a book they aren’t able to deal with. But also, when you include trigger warnings it does not harm – the opposite, in fact, it means that people can be prepared and still have the chance to read a book with everyone else while looking after yourself.

However, if you are on the fence concerning trigger warnings and whether or not they are important then I implore you to read blogger, Charlotte Somewheres, blog post concerning trigger warnings. I feel that Charlotte really understands the necessity and importance that trigger warnings are able to have for those who need them and it is a very enlightening post.


Ninth House Conclusion

I feel like the publicity and publication of Ninth House, although there has been some controversy, it has been a good thing as it has allowed conversations to arise that otherwise wouldn’t have. Conversations surrounding the need for dark themes in fiction, the importance of trigger warnings, or just warnings concerning the author’s content especially when they are transitioning from YA to adult. But another conversation, concerning whether or not trigger warnings should be applied to adult novels.

For me, will I read Ninth House? Yes, I think I will and that’s because of people tweeting and warning about the subject matter because now I know what to expect and I now have an opportunity to prepare myself so I won’t get triggered. But whether or not you want to read it or not, don’t feel guilty or ashamed is you are unable to. You have to look after yourself and that is the most important thing.

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29 thoughts on “Ninth House, Dark Themes and Trigger Warnings

  1. Wow, this is an incredible post. Very clear that you’ve put much effort and energy into it. I do agree with your thoughts on dark themes in fiction and in trigger warnings being applied to books from authors who are transitioning from YA to adult. It makes sense especially in Leigh Bardugo’s case, where her YA books have so many fans. This is more of a publisher responsibility to stay on top of these things. It’s awful that Bardugo may be receiving flack for writing dark material- particularly when she’s writing from experience. I think of it as a sort of silencing of victims, whether intended or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! This was a post I really wanted to get right and explore so I’m pleased with getting such engaging responses to it. It’s definitely a publisher responsibility in how they handle publicity and not Leigh Bardugo’s – though Leigh has done a great job in promoting that Ninth House is adult and content adult themes. I never thought of people’s reaction as being a way of silencing victims and I think I agree. Society often doesn’t like to talk about dark topics and often people like to brush over them so I think you are right that people’s reactions and concerning the ‘cancel’ culture is definitely linked to silencing victims. Such an interesting way to look at it, thank you.

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  2. This is one of the most comprehensive book-related posts I’ve ever read. And I completely agree with you, that no blame at all can be attached to the author. She (and any other) are free to write whatever they wish just as we, the readers, are free to read or not. BUT, as you say, the promotion of something that’s very different in nature from what the author is already famous for is a different matter entirely and should be handled properly. Thank you for raising this point in such a detailed and clear cut way, great post! Lisa x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I’m glad that you found the post informative and comprehensive too – I really wanted to include all aspects of the argument and make sure it is balanced one too! I agree with the sentiment that writers are free to write whatever they like just as readers can read whatever they like.

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  3. This is such an interesting post. I do believe authors should state trigger warnings – they have to do it on TV (or they should) so why not in fiction too? Really enjoyed this read – not something I’ve come across before on blogs x

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    1. Thank you so much. As you said they have trigger warnings when concerning television programs so why can’t there be a small section for people who want to check and prepare themselves.

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  4. You had me completely hooked here. I knew nothing about this and found it so interesting. I totally agree with you that the author isn’t at fault. She, like anyone, has the right to write whatever she wants and has informed her audience well. I don’t think the book should have been at YALC, even if it was there for other people like you. I’m on the fence about the TWs. I see where people are coming from about spoilers and a blurb with probably give you the general vibe that it’s dark. But I agree with you that it could be important for transitioning authors. Such an interesting subject area, thoroughly enjoyed this and thought you presented your opinions very well x

    Sophie
    http://www.glowsteady.co.uk

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    1. I think including trigger warnings and whether or not that means they are spoilers is a subject that definitely needs to be considered. However, on netflix, they simply state topics such as rape, sexual violence, strong language etc, and I don’t think that spoils a programme at all so perhaps there is a place for something like that in books too? That way people can have the option to look or choose not too depending on if they have any triggers. I’m really glad that you found this post interesting and I am hoping to do more posts like this on various topics in the future. x

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  5. Great post. I think the reaction people had to the trigger warnings is hi to make publishers wary of including them in case books get “cancelled” before they release. Most of LB’s fanbase are YA fans so I understand why they promoted it a YA event but I don’t think it was the right place for it. Trigger warnings are important for books like this

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Certainly, agree with this whole ‘cancel’ and ‘cancelling’ situation which occurs when the subject matter that others either disagree with or find uncomfortable and something that needs to simply stop. All books, no matter their themes, are valid and there is almost always a reader for them too. Thank you for reading.

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  6. Wow, this is an incredible, powerful post. I’ve never thought much about trigger warnings for books, but agree it’s something that should be considered. I’d like to know beforehand if a book contained domestic abuse, for example. Also your point about making YA readers aware if / when the YA author switches to more adults themes is spot on. This should definitely happen and I hope it does. Great post.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading. I feel like regardless of warnings, some readers will still ignore them and read an author’s new work even if it isn’t entirely suited to them – that’s something that won’t stop. But it will help some people protect themselves and allow them to then approach a book later in life when they are able to deal with sensitive and dark themes.

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  7. I haven’t heard of this book or seen any promotion of it (how out of the loop am i?) but I totally understand what you’re saying. It’s a tough thing when an author who’s so well known for YA novels suddently ventures into Adult. They’re obviously well within their right to do so but there definitely needs to be some better form of promoting that book and ensuring it doesn’t get into the hands of those who might be too young, too immature or triggered by anything in it. I think the author did a good job but if someone likes an author already, not much they say is going to stop them picking up their next book. Regardless of topic or genre. I really like the sound of this book, I’m a fan of dark books in general so I’d like to give this a go!

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    1. Authors are definitely in their rights to move and transition from different age ranges and genres but it’s important in promotion for them to be made clear. Leigh definitely has always been promoting Ninth House as an adult so I feel that her publishers need to enforce this too but agree that it won’t stop people from picking up the book but it may stop some and give them time to approach the book at a later date when they are perhaps better equipped to deal with the subject matter. I’m definitely going to give this book a go myself – especially since I have been warned about certain triggers and that means I can be better prepared going in.

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  8. I have heard of Ninth House and that is was very dark. It is annoying that the author always have to remind that it is not YA. It’s not because you’ve published in one genre before that you are stuck in it. Especially when it’s a book with so many trigger warning. I am not sure she had 100% control over the YA book convention though. Authors do not always have their saw regarding marketing and promotion unfortunately.

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    1. I completely agree, unfortunately not many people realise that once the author sends their book off to their publishers after the final edits, everything after that is out of their hands. I felt bad for Leigh because she really was being honest from the beginning and warning her younger readers and yet people want to cancel her and her book which I find it really unfair. I’m hoping that after this it will encourage a conversation with publishers of when to use trigger warnings.

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  9. Your post was written so sharp! I agree writers are entitled to write whatever they want and readers have a choice to read or pass. However, I believe warning signs should be displayed similar to the parental advisory sticker on CDs or the discretionary warning sign for certain tv shows. It’s unfair when you’re walking into unknown territory. I would hate to read a book about sexual violence or child abuse because it’s an unsettling topic. I think it’s all about marketing. I know publishers don’t wanna give away the plot line but I still believe they should give out some kind of warning. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic!!

    Natonya | https://www.justnatonya.wordpress.com

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    1. It certainly is in the marketing and unfortunately, it just went a little bit wrong for them. I think one thing that definitely needs to be looked into concerning trigger warnings is the perception that they become spoilers for the novel as a whole. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. x

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  10. “Dark themes are needed. Dark books are relevant. Dark themes in books matter and are important to be seen in fiction – even if not everyone wants to read them.”

    Oh my God! You have perfectly summed up my feelings about this whole ordeal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading! I feel like there definitely needs to be more people open to the idea of the existence of dark fiction and not be instantly wanting to cancel it because it’s just as equal as any other type of book!

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  11. Such a thought provoking and valid discussion of the issues surrounding Ninth House – I’ve never read any of Leigh Bardugos books before but after hearing such good things from everyone else I would love to delve into her writing. I’m glad that all this discussion has been created though so now I know what to expect rather than going in blind, especially in case of this book as it deals with some darker themes than her Y/A novels. Trigger warnings are definitely necessary, I don’t count them as spoilers at all, as they ensure people are notified and aware and can protect their mental and emotional health. Thanks for sharing your take on the issue and I think you did a great job at writing about it in a balanced manner. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I agree with what you say concerning mental and emotional health because having trigger warnings can be incredibly important in ensuring the health of a person and I think often it gets pushed aside due to the claim that it is then spoiling content for others.

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