It is time. Time to review one of book twitter’s most anticipated reads of 2019, this book has been flooding my timeline basically since it was announced and I was lucky enough to get a digital proof copy in order to share my opinions with you.
I feel a lot of the hype surrounding Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House has (obviously) come from her very dedicated fanbase. As someone who has read her stuff I feel like I should preface this review by saying my views of her work to date have been mixed. I am a big fan of the Six of Crows duology, while the original Grisha trilogy just didn’t do anything for me.
With that in mind I went into Ninth House equipped with two things – an open mind and the awareness that I was going to come across some disturbing content. Let’s see how it went.
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.
Content warning: On page rape (of a minor), violence, gore, sexual assault
As someone who’s perspective of Yale university is largely based on Gilmore Girls this was an interesting tonal shift. I could appreciate the idea that the secret societies of old universities could be in some way magical (something a lot of fiction about Oxford tries to do too) and I thought this concept was interesting. This had the potential to be a real discussion of privilege and ‘it’s not what you know’ when it comes to ‘prestigious’ institutions and I was intrigued as to how that would play out.
I’m not sure this book totally fulfilled that brief. I suppose I just had a difficult time seeing Alex as a student because for the whole of the book she is mostly tied up in other things and doesn’t really attend classes. The mentions of them are mostly that she finds them extremely difficult and then she’s too stuck in a murder case to really mention it. I suppose my feeling was that while the Yale setting was intriguing, especially from an English perspective, I didn’t feel as though Alex being a student added to the story and it weirdly got in the way of my suspension of belief.
I wonder if that might be because the book takes place over a relatively short period of time and there just wasn’t the space to set up regular student life, so all you get is glimpses of Alex in her shared house or in the dining hall?
As far as a supernatural murder mystery goes I thought this was quite good! There were a number of red herrings and plot loops (distinct from plot holes) that kept me interested all the way to the end. It did take me a while to warm to Alex as a character, by about halfway through I was ready for her to Carpe Diem and start making choices for herself – as you may know, this book is a lot about working through trauma and I suppose that needed to have that time to develop, but I’m really glad it did otherwise I don’t think I would have finished the book.
I can’t talk about Ninth House without acknowledging that many of the scenes included in this book will be very upsetting for some readers. I had been forewarned as to the content but its appearance in the book is incredibly sudden and graphic. I mainly mention this to add to the voice of ‘there ought to be trigger warnings in the final copy’.
Obviously, this book is Bardugo’s first foray into the world of Adult fantasy fiction and I think it’s a mostly good attempt. Much like her YA work, this book won’t appeal to everyone but I’d probably recommend it to those looking for a quite gory and angsty fantasy murder mystery with a strong paranormal lean. I would be really interested to hear the thoughts of those who read this book without any prior knowledge of Bardugo’s work – that reputation definitely affects the reading experience (or so I found).
I wouldn’t describe this as a ‘must-read’ for 2019, but I think that those who are looking forward to it will likely find it good – as long as they have the content warnings they need.
My rating: 3/5 stars (probably a 3.5)
I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
Ninth House is available now!
What say you? Are you new to Leigh Bardugo’s work? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!