Well, it is with a heavy heart that I say I did not like this book as much as I wanted to. That’s fine, of course. I mean, this book is so perfectly Leigh I love it in that regard. I knew it would be a dark Gothic contemporary fantasy (is that a genre? I’m not sure “urban fantasy” can be used here but correct me if I’m wrong), and Leigh never shied away from saying that Ninth House deals and goes down some very dark avenues (see this Tweet).
This book also has a lot of content warnings, too. I found this list to be a good one.
Title: Ninth House (Alex Stern #1)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release date: October 8, 2019
Genre: Contemporary, fantasy
Length: 458 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (via Goodreads) “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 homicide. 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.”
“That was what magic did. It revealed the heart of who you’d been before life took away your believe in the possible.”
Overall, the storyline was okay. My main problem stemmed from the fact that it was so slow. Parts were slow, some were dull. And to be honest, when I set the book down for the night, it was hard to return. This isn’t because of the content warnings. You sort of just stumble your way through this book in the same way Alex stumbles along with Darlington, pulled into this secret society–the House of Lethe–in hopes to escape. But the thing is, they need her and she’s not quite sure why. There is a murder mystery part to this book which I enjoyed. As I’ve said before I suck at making predictions, so I was totally blindsided when the truth came out. It wasn’t what I thought it would be but it was just so interesting and intriguing, especially everything that revolved around Darlington, which may have well been my favorite part of the book.
Another part I enjoyed about the book is how Leigh wrote through these realistic double-standards Alex faces as a woman and a victim.
Despite not loving major parts of the book, I enjoyed the characters. Alex has dealt with the dark stuff and the way she’s able to move past it and still function is worth an applause. I’m not saying she’s moved from it completely, as there are definitely parts where we see her analyze and wonder. I liked her relationship with Darlington. It was completely platonic (so if you’re looking for a romance, this may not be the book for you). I simply wanted more between them, interactions, banter. I absolutely loved Darlington’s chapters. Despite him being a “spoiled rich kid” he seemed to find his niche in the House of Lethe, and even more so when he took Alex under his wing.
I liked how Alex was with her friends, too. Despite the readers only getting brief scenes with them, you could tell these were girls Alex wanted to be friends with, not just because they were different than who she hung out with back in Los Angelos.
“Alex didn’t really know what she missed, only that she was homesick for something, maybe for someone, she’d never been.”
I’ve said this before and I’ll definitely say it again, each book Leigh write she simply gets better and better. Ninth House is no different. It was easy to picture the haunting New Haven, the college with its societies and cults, the inner workings of magic and the rituals. I found a place here, even though I’ve never been.
Despite all these things, this wasn’t a book that had me on the edge of my seat. I enjoyed it because I love Leigh’s writing and her world-building, but I don’t think I’ll keep this book in my personal library, nor am I too eager to read its sequel.