Ok so this? THIS is the dark academia book I’ve been longing for.
It is super hyped and I mean, of course: it’s Leigh Bardugo! We are on the cusp of a Grisha Netflix show, we’re hanging out for the sequel to King of Scars, we have the entire sprawling Grisha series being a founding stone of YA. This is her ninth novel (heh; that worked out well) and I was super keen to see her flex her writing prowess into a new genre and shape.
The whole story is a vicious story of vindictive revenge, of murders and ghosts, and societies in Yale that play around with dark magic. But also of importantly a story of healing.
And yeah. You finish it, and you get a little mad there’s no book 2 yet. (But I don’t think the cliffhanger was too torturous.)
Barudo’s foray into adult literature
Alright so let’s be clear here: this is adult lit. I’ve seen a lot of people upset about how dark it is…but it’s, uh, adult lit. Leigh Bardugo’s been super open about it containing explicit content and including topics like murder, sexual assault, and violence. So obviously not everyone wants to read that, which is totally fine. But I kind of am confused at the bitterness on twitter of a dark academia book being, uh, dark. Anyway.
Adult vs YA in style: It did read differently to her YA! The prose is more dense and uses grandiose language. It’s a bit of a prowess flex, and that’s okay. I appreciated it. It dumps you in without a lot of background info on the magic system etc, and lots is NOT explained. But it wasn’t difficult to jog a bit to keep up. The first 1/3 felt really dense/slow, but then it sped up and got a crackalackin on in pace.
it’s about a girl who can see ghosts
Hello, here is a traumatised character who gets told “no” and smashes through doors anyway. Alex is a highschool drop out, druggie, and runaway who’s recruited to work for the Lethe society at Yale because she has a rare skill: she can see ghosts, aka The Grays. Basically Lethe is the “police” of the dark magic societies. They’re supposed to monitor everyone, keep the dark rituals in check (hey don’t go murdering each other, kids!) and manage the greys who are drawn to rituals involving blood. The book starts off with a murder of a town girl and Alex refuses to let it drop. Intuitively I realise it’s because Alex doesn’t want dead girls overlooked. But on page? It wasn’t actually that convincing why Alex went so hard for this case. But anyway.
So yeah! It’s a murder-mystery basically! Alex follow this tangled web the societies of woven around this dead girl, and it’s fascinating, although I kinda guessed the ultimate villain waaaay early.
Alex also has a heartwrenching arc with the grays, going from being a horrific trauma for her over to things she is working to control and team up with. We stan an emotional arc.
I LOVED the flashy setting in Yale, the twisted and secretive and dark culture of the societies, and the mysteries of everyday and arcane and obscure magic (in objects or powders etc) filtered through the storyline.
Let’s talk about the characters…
Okay characters make or break a book for me. 👀 I liked this lot, but I was pretty much ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ about their angst too. I don’t know why exactly???
➢ Alex Stern: absolutely a frightening dark-hearted wonder. I liked it when she just went dark side.
➢ Darlington (Danny Arlington): ok dude reminded me of Gansey from The Raven Cycle, all scholarly and gentlemanly and sort of views Alex as a fleabitten kitten he has to train. HOWEVER. He’s “vanished” for all the the obok and we only get him in flash backs. I liked him, but I did not have enough page time to care.
➢ Dawes: Cannot remember her first name but Dawes is FAB. Intrepid, quiet. Makes soup. Cleans up the messes when Alex arrives home beaten half to hell. She’s just trying to finish her PHD and not die and when people get loud, she vanishes into her sweater. Relatable.
➢ Turner: packet mix gruff detective who is a pain but then all soft inside etc etc. See any murder mystery ever. Hop from Stranger Things, etc etc.
And look just a quick note on diversity? Alex doesn’t know her father and suspects he’s maybe Mexican or Dominican. I was kind of unimpressed with the racist comments thrown in (Alex’s friend saying “get out of the sun before you look like a Mexican”) and the fact they were not rebuffed. I do NOT think that writing a racist character equals a racist author and/or book. But I’m kind of over quips like that if they’re not going to be addressed.
So what did I think overall?
Look it’s hyped and it’s intimidating with all its rave reviews and endorsements from mega-famous authors (STEPHAN KING! LEV GROSSMAN!). I liked it a lot. It was wickedly dark and gory at times, as well as viciously dark and heart breaking at times. It tackled a lot of #MeToo themes, with women being used and silenced and blamed while they are victims of privileged men’s whims. I think that was brilliantly handled. Harrowing, but written thoughtfully.
But I didn’t fall in love with the characters like I hoped I would, and while I enjoyed the plot deliciously and wickedly, it never shocked or spun my head around. I think I expected a little bit more? But I do plan to reread. I loved Six of Crows more the second time too.
this book is about playing with dark magic you don’t understand. about not giving up when doors slam on your fingers. it’s about justice for girls and clawing towards healing with teeth and bloody fingernails. it is dark and occasionally there is blood everywhere and there are dead things. and they’re watching you.
Thanks Hachette Australia for the review-copy! Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo came out Oct 8th, 2019
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.
| what about you? |
has the hype caught you for this one!? is it on your tbr? let me know what you think if you’ve read it!! and do you like dark fantasy?