Friday, February 21, 2020

Review: is Ninth House Leigh Bardugo's Worst Book?

In October of 2019, beloved YA author Leigh Bardugo released her first adult novel, titled Ninth House in reference to its occultist themes. Like many other fans of Bardugo's Grisha and Six of Crows series, I was very excited for its release. However, some readers found themselves disappointed by the new book and its dark, disturbing contents. I, on the other hand, loved it. Spoiler alert: this is going to be a (mostly) positive review. 

the plot 

Bardugo typically writes fantasy but chose to go a different route for her new series. But don't worry, Ninth House still includes a healthy dose of dark magic for fantasy lovers like myself. Galaxy Stern, otherwise known as Alex, was born with a unique and terrifying gift: the ability to see ghosts. Her ability has caused her a lot of trauma, fear, and trouble with the law. After a tragic event, Alex is offered a place at Yale by the university's secret occult societies. Her job is to join the organization that monitors the societies' nefarious activities. However, there's always a catch.

The plot starts off slowly and the first one hundred pages crawl by at a snail's pace. You're initially given a lot of questions but not a lot of answers. But once you get into the swing of the plot, the intensity magnifies and you soon find yourself enthralled by the various occult groups and their practices, as well as their potential ties to a brutal murder. Leigh Bardugo expertly combines a murder mystery with a horror-fantasy set in a very-real New Haven, Connecticut. But you soon realize that the world is not always what it seems. However, if you are not a fan of one of those genres, the combination may not be to your taste. You may be itching to read more about the occult and are bored by the mystery, or vice versa. I personally love both genres, so this did not bother me. In fact, I was very impressed by the way Bardugo merged the two. 

the characters 

Alex is our prickly, distrustful, bold protagonist. She desperately wants to fit in with her new environment and to turn her life around but feels lost and alone. She is trapped and haunted (no pun intended) by her past. Alex isn't immediately likable, but she is a complex and very human character. She has her flaws, her past mistakes, and her vices. As a character, she represents real people who have suffered from abuse, PTSD, or victimization in some form. But that never means that she is weak. I am not entirely certain that I loved her, but I sympathized with her and rooted for her the entire time. 

Other than Alex, one of the main faults in this book is the lack of developed side characters. They exist and they function in the plot but fail to take a solid form. Darlington, Alex's occult tutor and fellow Yale student, is the most prominent and more developed of the bunch. Darlington is my personal favorite and the one I feel I can relate to the most. He has an unquenchable curiosity and sense of honor that will appeal to many bookworms. 

the writing

Ninth House's triumph is its atmosphere. Leigh Bardugo crafts a twisted, uncanny, and somber tale filled with monsters, other worlds, and desperate spells. She has grown exponentially in the past decade into a remarkable writer. I could pull a dozen quotes from the book that would take your breath away. The only thing I could do without is the endless descriptions of Yale's campus. I know Leigh Bardugo attended the school, but I personally couldn't care about the specifics of the architecture or layout.  

This book creates a conversation about wealth and privilege in a way that I haven't seen an adult novel do before without becoming preachy or losing track of the story. Leigh Bardugo does not shy away from the dark or the gritty details of life, some that may make readers uncomfortable. But these are important themes to confront and to discuss. While it may turn off younger readers, this story is labeled "adult" for a reason. I do not think the violent or disturbing scenes are gratuitous, but I will say that those who are easily triggered by assault, drugs, abuse, etc. may want to steer away. 

the verdict

While the plot can drag and is not exactly action-packed, I found the themes and the world to be fascinating and I can't wait to read more. This is supposed to turn into a five book series and I for one am excited to see what else Leigh Bardugo does with this dark atmosphere and crazy world. She built up such an intense, detailed world in the first novel that I can't wait to explore. 

Publication Date: October 8, 2019
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Pages: 458
Genre: Fantasy
Synopsis: 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.

Have you read Ninth House? What did you think?


  1. I am very intrigued by this book. I can't say it's something I would read right now, as I don't think I can deal with anything with heavy subject matter at the moment, but I feel like this book would be very interesting! I'm sorry you didn't find the plot very action-packed. But, I can imagine the themes would be very captivating.

    1. It is definitely heavy but when you feel ready to pick it up, I hope you love it. It is very different from Leigh Bardugo's other works and I really enjoyed it. It wasn't action-packed, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing!

  2. Great review!! Leigh Bardugo is such a great author that I feel like I will never not read something she writes ahah! Looks like this one was a success for u I keep hearing mixed things... while it sounds like it takes awhile to get into I still really want to read this one! Happy reading :)


    1. Thank you! And I feel the same way about Leigh Bardugo. She is one of my favorite authors for sure. I get why you are hearing mixed reviews because it is so different from her other books, but I really enjoyed it and recommend it.