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.
Author: Leigh Bardugo | Publisher: Flatiron Books
BIG THANK YOU to my friend @LauraYaminReads of the What to Read Next Podcast for loaning me her ARC of Ninth House — it will be published this October. This review is spoiler-free but also contains content warnings at the very bottom for anyone who may need them.
I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one. I have loved all of Leigh Bardugo’s past books, and while I knew that Ninth House was going to be really, really different, I trusted her to bring me something great. And both of those things are true: This book was WAY different than any of her other books, and it was also great work.
What this book is not: Young Adult. Part of the Grishaverse. A coming of age story. A new, magical universe to get lost in. A particularly feel-good story.
What this book is: More like paranormal fantasy mystery. Actually sorta scary. Full of potential triggers for people with certain experiences. A story about a girl who’s had a really hard life.
Alex Stern is a freshman at Yale, desperately trying to forget her old life and fit into her new one. She was plucked from a hospital bed by Lethe, a secret organization that exists to keep Yale’s “Ancient Eight” secret occult societies in line. But then a girl is murdered, and Alex knows something is off about it, and everything turns out to be a lot more complicated than anyone thought. It doesn’t help that her mentor, Darlington, is missing. It all builds to an ending that I would be really freaking impressed if you saw coming.
We get flashbacks throughout the book that introduce us to Darlington, the Ancient Eight, and both characters’ pasts. It’s a really effective and ingenious construction that drips the important info to the reader piece by revelatory piece.
This book was like the most frightening parts of fantasy novels turned up to 11. I wouldn’t put it in the horror genre, but there were definitely things in this book that I have never before found myself imagining. Just know that before you go in.
I really loved Alex Stern as a character. She is broken and strong and confused and daring and bad and good all at the same time. But her childhood and adolescence was bad — really bad. Holds no punches. To watch her try to start to heal and change is something special, but not always easy.
I also loved Darlington, who’s perfect and fractured and passionate and doubtful all at the same time. The way Bardugo gives us these pieces of them one by one is masterful, and I’m looking forward to getting even more in the next book.
You can also really tell how much she loved New Haven and Yale and how much of herself she poured into this story. Only someone with an insider knowledge of these places could have written this book.
I CAN’T WAIT for the next one. And I can’t wait for everyone to read it so we can all discuss!
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Content warnings: Rape, date rape, sexual assault, drug use, drug overdose.