Before we start the review, I am unsure if I need a disclaimer or not so here it is just in case. I received an early copy of Ninth House from a bookseller friend to read after I wrote my ‘Ninth House, Dark Themes & Trigger Warnings‘ post.
Trigger Warnings for Ninth House: sexual assault including child rape & date rape drug, self-harm, suicide, physical abuse, overdose, violence, murder.
Ninth House By Leigh Bardugo
Format: Paperback, advanced copy.
Publisher: Gollancz Books
Release Date: 8th October 2019
Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicides. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?
Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.
I haven’t read much of Leigh Bardugo’s works before – only a couple of short stories from the Language of Thorns novel – and I was quite surprised. From what I know most of Leigh Bardugo’s previous works are based firmly in the realm of fantasy while Ninth House is held within a contemporary setting with elements of the supernatural and magical realism. Going into Ninth House, I knew only the basic synopsis and the conversation and debate it caused surround dark themes and trigger warnings which I’m glad as being aware of the triggering content meant I could prepare myself and enjoy the book.
Alex is out of her depth and barely scraping to get by, now a student at Yale while working for the Ninth House also known as Lethe House and the house which ensure the rest of the secret eight societies stay in line. Gifted with the ability to Greys that have crossed the veil, Alex hold an ability that few do and because of that, she is considered a valuable asset to Lethe House. While combating the supernatural, attempting to learn all she can about these secret societies and having to maintain on top of her actual Yale student work – there isn’t a lot of time for Alex.
The narrative of the story is split into the seasons (Last Fall, Winter, Spring), while Winter is the present as the novel continues looking back we find out more about Alex, her past and the mysterious Ninth House and its members. I loved these flashbacks as they gave us an insight of Alex before she joined Lethe House but also her relationship with its members, particularly Dawes and Darlington.
Atmospheric, this book I ended up reading at quite a slow pace because I wanted to take everything in and also didn’t want it to end. The story itself is tense and gripping and like Alex to begin with you feel lost and confused and having to play catch-up which I thought was a great effect as it really brings you into Alex’s mind and perspective. Moreover, I loved how Alex was written and is easily one of my favourite protagonists in any book that I have read this year. Although essentially she is classed as a ‘goodie’ or the ‘hero’ she doesn’t pretend to be something she’s not and is very aware of her darker side and decisions that she has made in the past. I liked that she doesn’t make excuses for her actions but still chooses to do what she feels is morally right.
I loved finding out about Lethe House and the other societies, specifically concerning what their talents and abilities focused upon. Mixing the supernatural and magical backdrop with elements of a murder mystery – I thought Ninth House was brilliant although the ending just made me want to reach for the next book which doesn’t even have a release date yet!
Overall, I found the Ninth House to be full of suspense, mystery and tangled with curiosity – honestly, I just want to know more about this world and certain characters too!
Now, considering the debate surrounding the novel, its appearance at YALC and the themes, I would like to emphasis that I still stand by my opinions before. This is certainly an adult novel that tackles various adult and triggering themes – some in little detail while others are quite explicit- and this book shouldn’t have been promoted at a YA event. However, concerning the themes and the inclusion of them in the novel, I saw them as entirely valid and although I felt uncomfortable at times they don’t take anything away from the experience. My only advice is that if you are aware that one of your triggers is in this novel then take your time and don’t feel afraid to put the book down and take a break.
Will you be picking up Ninth House? Have you read any other Leigh Bardugo novels before?