I received this book for free from Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Series: Alex Stern #1
Published by Flatiron Books on October 8, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery, New Adult, Paranormal
Format: Physical ARC
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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.
Ninth House is Leigh Bardugo’s first attempt at an adult series after writing a number of wildly popular young adult novels. Our heroine is Galaxy (Alex) Stern: a badass, street smart twenty-something who can see ghosts. And not the casper kind. The gritty, very dead kind. After her boyfriend is murdered and she almost dies in the same attack, she is given full ride to Yale and, while things are finally looking up for Alex, her new role as Dante in a secret society that is tasked with policing students using magic on campus may be more than she bargained for..
I have seen ninth house compared to Levi Strauss’ The Magician by other readers, and not in a good way – they complain the beginning of this book is slow and meandering with nothing interesting happening until around 60%. I haven’t read The Magicians yet, but I can see how some people would find this slow start a deal breaker. In fact, I took a break from Ninth House and didn’t really want to come back to it for a whopping 6 months because – well – the slog was real.
My review of Ninth House starts off pretty negative, but bear with me here. Ninth House has a certain kind of brilliance that, once fully unfurled, was a fantastic read..
On top of slogging through the painful beginning, I initially really struggled with Alex, our heroine. She had a bad attitude and didn’t seem to have any real inclination towards self sufficiency. It took far too long for Bardugo to explain how Alex financially supported herself. I know that for many readers this aspect of the story probably seems minor in comparison to the development of a realistic magic system, world building and relatable character development – but in an adult novel I expect a few every day nuances to be addressed. I believe money is a huge part of being an adult, so for me this was something I really struggled with early on – weird? Maybe.
It also took a really long time for Alex to grow as a character and accept help from her fellow Ninth House alumni. Later we a see an a more “grown up” Alex who doesn’t make petty snap judgements about others, but the growing pains were really challenging. Alex was akin to a surly adolescent in the beginning and generally was jealous of others for having “normal” lives. Yes, I empathized with Alex because she had some really tough times before coming to Ninth House, but her behaviour made it incredibly to see her as an heroic lead character.
I immediately disliked Alex, but once she starts working in a team and we are joined by Turner’s more pragmatic nature and Pammy’s book smarts, things get SO much more interesting.
Ninth House is marketed as an adult novel but is unquestionably a New Adult novel dealing with themes such as self discovery, community and friendship. It’s also about finding ones place in the world – something adult novels gloss over or omit because, presumably, adults have over come these identity crises. Bardugo’s first installment in the Alex Stern series is undoubtedly more of a New Adult novel leading into an Adult series. Regardless of Galaxy Stern’s dark history of abuse, addiction and loss; Alex is still very much a young adult foraying into true adulthood in her role as Dante.
What does Ninth House do well? Bardugo is a talented writer, able to make even the most mundane come to life and become something uniquely beautiful. The world building in this book, although front loaded, is astounding with minor details meticulously planned and explained. The magic system of in this world is compelling and the expertise of each house is also interesting. I loved that Alex was part of an elite house, yet still a power house of her own, willing to throw down her benefactors to unravel the mysteries of powerful and ancient societies regardless of the cost. Also – you can’t really tell who the big bad is until the very end which was refreshing – especially from a book where nothing happens for first 60% and still somehow doesn’t tip its hand!
Ninth House is based on the real world campus of Yale and surrounding area. Bardugo went to school there so the details are part of an authentic Yale experience, which is ultra cool.
Ninth House is Bardugo’s first step towards a truly adult novel and is definitely worth a look. Will I read the next installment in this series? You bet! I love the world and the magic. I can’t wait to see Alex solve more mysteries, further explore the secret societies and see the characters continue to grow – especially since I think Bardugo will grow her characters into the complexities of adulthood throughout the series.
There’s so much promise in the future of this series, and I don’t want to miss any of it.