[Disclaimer: Since writing this post I have read and reviewed ‘Ninth House’ on this blog that you can find here.]
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 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.