Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo


Wow. Truly almost passed out reading this book on more than one occasion. The last time that happend to me, I was on an airplane reading Stephen King’s On Writing where he vividly describes the pain of getting hit by a car and breaking his leg. Bardugo also got me with the visceral descriptions of pain and broken bones, so I clearly won’t be working in an E.R. but it is a pretty good gauge of someones writing I’d say. If words on a page can make a reader have a real physical reaction, you know that as a writer you’re doing something right.

Broken bones and me being a lil’ bitch about them aside, this book is so so good. The protagonist, Alex Stern is dynamic and complex, frequently oscillatating between likeable and unlikeable in a way that keeps her multi-dimensional to the the reader, yet just out of reach.

The summary on the inside of the book jacket reads: “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’d 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 activites 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 imaginiatoin might conceive. They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And sometimes, they prey on the living.”

Ninth House reads like a combination of Harry Potter and Gone Girl. The magical elements are some of my favorite aspects of the story. There’s a coin of compulsion, allowing it’s holder to make anyone do whatever what they want them to do (p. 53), some moths and an incantation that remove the ink from skin or paper, absorbing it into themselves until they’re “ink drunk”  (p. 70). But “be careful in the throes” because saliva can reverse the effects. One of my favorites is basso belladonna which is described as “a stimulant, a strong one, like magical adderall” (p. 77). A few drops in the eyes and you can convice yourself that you could walk across a field of broken glass if it’s what you were really determined to do. Speaking of glass, the final magic bit I’ll mention is a pocket mirror that you hold up to a person, capturing their reflection so that later on you’ll appear to have that persons face for the next few hours or so (p. 269-271). I’ll leave the rest of the magic to be discovered.

Part of the reason I enjoyed Ninth House so much was because of the style of narration and the play with temporality. You learn early on that there’s been some sort of horrible accident which made Daniel Arlington, called “Darlington”, go missing. He’s Alex’s mentor, the Virgil to her Dante, and the “golden boy of Lethe”.

Lethe is responsible for protecting the “layworld” from the goings on of the “otherworldly”. They basically are there to keep the societies in line, and make sure no one on the outside sees or learns anything they aren’t supposed to. But Alex soon learns that as with all systems of power, money talks and rules are bent and broken for whomever has the highest bid. As she tries to help solve the violent, brutal murder of a local townie, Tara Hutchins, Alex also has to deal with the fact that not only can she see the dead, as she has her whole life, but now they’re getting close to crossing over the “Veil” (the barrier between our physical world, and the afterlife) and doing whatever the fuck they want to/with her. All of this while trying to maintain a resonable GPA and deal with endless traumas she’s experienced in her harrowing 20 years – get this girl a fuckin Puppers.

Early on, we get a bit of alternating narration between Alex and Darlington allowing the reader some insight into their relationship, who Darlington is, and how he feels about Alex. Once Darlington is missing, Alex takes over and we bounce around from spring to fall to winter and back again. Sometimes this play with temporality can feel a bit mixed up and confusing, but Bardugo does it right. She makes just the right allusions to past events, giving the reader bits and pieces of info that leave them eager to find out what tf happened to Darlington, and what went down at “Ground Zero”, Alex’s reference to the mulitple homicide she survived.

I don’t have an official system for ranking books, but I would solidly give Ninth House a 10/10 would reccommend, and would also LOVE to see a movie adaptation, with hopefully a decent cast – no Kristen Stewert as Alex, and I’ll be happy.

To wrap it up, sorry if this post seems scattered and just like a bunch of thoughts all at once. I just really enjoyed this book, and I was eager to write another entry in general. I’m working towards more content, but I can’t make any promises on consistency!

If you’re looking for a riveting, sometimes scary, and definitely always intense read, I couldn’t reccommend Ninth House enough. My only complaint is that Bardugo left us muhfuckin HANGIN at the end there, with no specific release date for the follow up. But I hear patience is a virtue, so I suppose I’ll try to work on that while she works on the sequel.

Thank you so much for spending a bit of your time with the ramblings of a former English major, and as always, happy reading!



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