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.
Before starting this book I’d heard such mixed reviews, with some readers raving about it and others feeling distinctly underwhelmed. I fall somewhere in the middle here because there were things I really enjoyed about Ninth House and other elements which just didn’t work for me. The premise was what initially drew me in, but I was also intrigued by the buzz surrounding the novel as a whole, with it being Bardugos first foray into adult fiction. It was such a huge topic on Book Twitter and Booktube when the ARC’s were dropped due to controversy surrounding the lack of trigger warnings and it being put in the Y/A category, when it is definitely an adult novel.
Trigger warnings: overdose, heavy drug use, violence, gore, child rape, statutory rape, sexual assault, videos of sexual assaults, physical assault, racism
As always with a Leigh Bardugo novel, you can count on the writing being top notch and this book is no exception. There are some truly powerful moments in the novel and some beautiful quotes as a result. I thought that the representation of trauma and the vicious cycle of abuse was so important and Bardugo portrays this is an honest and unflinching way, with no holds barred. While it was hard to read at times due to the sometimes graphic and disturbing nature of the content, it’s also vital that stories like this one are available, that portray the realities of what life can be like for survivors and their road to healing. I would also strongly suggest that readers take caution and only read the novel if you feel safely able to do so, as there is a lot of triggering content.
“I want to survive this world that keeps trying to destroy me.”
As well as the writing being stellar and the exploration of abuse and surviving, Bardugo also delves into the inherent privilege of being a rich white male in America and how damaging this unfettered privilege can be for those around them. Bardugo portrays the very sad but relevant issue of sexual assault on college campuses, and the kind of mindset of those who commit them as well as the society which perpetuates rape culture and places blame on the victims.
I loved the Yale setting and the whole secret societies, cloak and dagger vibe of the novel. I thought all the descriptions and magic behind the different societies was so well done and this is perhaps my favourite element of the novel. There are eight of these ancient societies, each of them able to wield a different kind of magic. Lethe, the ninth house which Alex is in, is responsible for monitoring the other houses and making sure they abide by the rules and don’t take advantage of others. I liked the whole idea of this magical underworld existing side by side to the regular world of Yale, with ambitious students, dreary classes and frat parties and it was definitely done well.
“That was what magic did. It revealed the heart of who you’d been before life took away your belief in the possible. It gave back the world all lonely children longed for.”
What I struggled with within the novel was the pacing and the back and forth narrative which took up a lot of time. The novel bounces between Winter and Spring, which is the present. While normally this peaks my interest and furthers that sense of suspense, for some reason I felt like it just really dragged on here and left me feeling bored and sort of apathetic towards the story. Normally I can read a novel this length within a couple of days but this book took me longer to get through and it felt like a slow trawl rather than a sprint.
As well as the pacing, I feel like the novel struggles because of the absence of a particular character, who we learn so much about and who I liked and wanted to see a lot more of. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone in case you plan to read it in the future, but I was just left feeling nonplussed and disinterested by all the side quests. I feel like there are blanks in my memory already of what happens in between the pivotal moments of the novel, because it’s like nothing really happens? I don’t know but it just felt lacking in a certain something.
Overall, Ninth House proved to be a mixed reading experience for me, I loved the setting and the writing, as well as the exploration of important issues, but the slow pacing and back and forth elements just stopped me from enjoying it fully. I really wanted to love this book but unfortunately I just didn’t. Although it wasn’t the book for me or what I expected, I would still recommend giving it a chance, it may be more to your taste.
Until next time,