Book Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
The mesmerizing adult debut from Leigh Bardugo, a tale of power, privilege, dark magic, and murder set among the Ivy League elite 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. In fact, by age twenty, 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 prestigious universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her? Still searching for answers, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. Their eight windowless “tombs” are the well-known haunts of the rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street’s biggest players. But their occult activities are more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive. They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And, sometimes, they prey on the living.
Ninth House was one of my most anticipated releases for October. I like Leigh Bardugo’s writing style. And I admit, I was curious to see if she can actually write adult fiction as well as she writes Young Adult fiction. The answer to that question is, she does.
I picked up Ninth House for the Barnes & Noble Book Club. It was November’s book of the month to read. It took me much longer to read the book because the episcleritis in my right eye made it painful to read – you never realize how much your eyes move until you try to read with an eye that hurts if it moves. In all honesty, I think that’s the only real reason it took so long to read this book.
As with most of Leigh Bardugo’s books, it does have a slightly slow, slightly confusing start. Where the prologue starts, you have no idea of what might be going on. Don’t worry, you’ll get there. You just have to be patient. Once you get into the story though, you’ll be sucked in. I read the last 200 pages or so in one sitting, my eye be damned. I didn’t want to put it down.
I liked Alex. She’s a tough kid but she’s also vulnerable. She comes from nothing, doesn’t feel like she belongs at Yale and from a standpoint of money, she really doesn’t. After all, she’s not rich. Her parents couldn’t pay her way in. She’s there because Lethe wants her. But she redeems herself well.
Dean Sandow is just plain a jerk. He’s one of those men who blames the victim. You’ll see what I mean, but honestly, he’s just a douche of a character that I really didn’t like at any point in the story. You might think he was doing Alex a favor by offering her a scholarship and a fresh start, but he’s only out for himself as you’ll see.
Darlington, an absent character that we get to know vicariously through what amounts to memories, is a mystery even after the fact. I think he’ll figure even more prominently in book 2, for reasons I won’t be disclosing.
Dawes – Pammie/Oculus – is an interesting character. She’s shy, she doesn’t know how to handle people. And she becomes very attached to the people that she cares for. She’s a fierce champion for her friends and those she loves and frankly, she is not to be trifled with.
Detective Turner is another one who is out for himself. He just wants to get ahead and make some money on the side by being Centurion for Lethe. He helps them investigate deaths or crimes that might be related to the Houses, but honestly, I didn’t care for him.
The book deals with some pretty deep situations such as frat parties that end in the rape of drugged girls, rape where the victim is believed to just be acting out instead of being a victim, and even victim blaming – although the victim blaming is in connection with a non-sexual attack. I, and the group of book club members who were mostly women, felt that Ms. Bardugo handled these things well, showing in a veiled way how society sees these types of things.
I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars because I felt it was awesome but could use some improvement. There were a couple of blatant editing errors. The ending of the book more than makes up for it, but not enough to give it a full five stars.