You know those incredibly hyped books? The ones that you know of the special edition covers, but haven’t actually read? The ones that set the bookish community aflame? That was me and Ninth House. I’m pretty sure I got it for my birthday this year….in January….and I finally read it. Keep reading this book review to see my thoughts on this very hyped book.
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.
TW: rape of child, physical abuse, sexual assault, rape, drug use, PTSD, self-harm
Ninth House is one of those books with a premise I loved, but wanted more of and a main character I wanted to love. Layers of wealth and privilege swirl around the shadows of Yale. During the light of the day you see it in their posh accents, their manner of dress, but at night is when the true shadow rises its head. A myriad of secret societies of magic in the hands of the young, ambitious, and privileged. Of deals, rituals, and sacrifices for profit and privilege.
The discussions of wealth and privilege throughout Ninth House were one of my favorite elements. A society that is built on wealth and nepotism, the sacrifice of the lives that go unnoticed, and where crimes and transgressions are swept under the rug. Alex is brought into this world of money from the outside. You may wonder how she will be able to cope in this world of excuses and donations that make records disappear. But Alex has fangs. There are hidden secrets to her past that linger in corners.
Characters & POVs
Told through the perspective of Darlington (in the past) and Alex (in the past and present), Bardugo allows us to get to know Alex through Darlington’s eyes. From a writing perspective, I appreciated this technique. It allows us to get to know both Alex and this secret society of Houses at the same time. The memories of the past, her discoveries, and the layers of secrets unfold simultaneously. But here’s also a place where Ninth House lost me.
On paper, Alex has everything in a character I love. She has a sense of justice in a world that ignores the crimes of the rich and elite. It’s not pretty and it is not traditional, but she recognizes that sometimes we have to take it into our own hands. That if we let the systems in place handle it, they will never see the light of day. Additionally, the more I found out about Alex’s past, the more I felt for her. The challenges she has had to move forwards from, the trauma in the corners of her mind. And the ways she has emerged on the other side.
But for some reason, I just didn’t have a good sense of Alex. She’s extremely guarded, and with good reasons. However, I felt like there wasn’t a lot of time devoted to her character introspection, to her feelings and emotions even unspoken. As a character, she unfolded extremely slowly, contrary to Darlington who quickly took my heart and whose narration, worries and emotions, were on the pages. I wanted to love Alex and while I rooted for her, felt bad for her, I also never felt like I got to know her.
What takes the cake, in terms of disappointment, has to be the world building. Ninth House is almost 500 pages and I still have so many questions about how the world works. There were elements and reveals that seemed to only appear as plot devices. And all these intriguing details about the House system and the magic in the book, felt nebulous when I was grasping for straws. Considering how much I was looking forward to this new magic system and the fantasy element, I just felt frustrated by how little I knew at the end of the book.
Don’t even get me started on some characters and plot events that seemed to be sprinkled in for pure purpose. I understand that everything in the book exists for a reason and to the story. But there were some times where I just felt it was pretty blatant to have popped up without seamless interweaving.
That being said, I will probably read the sequel. Even now, I want to know more about Alex. I want my heart to ache, to skip when I see her and relish in her triumphs. The last third of the book improved my opinion of Ninth House dramatically. I felt like the larger events and plots were in motion and it began to pick up. But when I finished, these threads of disappointment emerged.