5 star, YA

Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Alex Stern #1

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.

This one was simply brilliant. A bit longer than the books I normally read, but every bit was worth it. Andge and I both agree on this 5 Drink Me Potions rating, with only one slight knock that we agreed on. How do I even describe this book? It’s an…urban…fantasy…mystery? Elements of history? It’s actually hard to put a finger on, but either way, we absolutely enjoyed it.

Ninth House is about a world where magic is real. But not the kind that you’re thinking of (Expelliarmus!), but much more sinister in nature, with rituals and summonings and illusions. The world building of this fantasy is actually amazing, more amazing than anything I’ve read (about magic) in a long while. A brief introduction is that magic is based around these “tombs” or “nexuses” where magic converges, and each of the eight Houses of the Veil can deploy a specific type of magic using these power points.

Alex Stern, our protagonist, gets sucked into this world in New Haven. Just why was she chosen to become a part of it?

First of all, can I just say that the name Galaxy is amazing. Yes we know her by Alex basically the entire novel, but shortening Galaxy into Alex is pretty cool. And it’s not just for the sake of having a cool name, since names are quite important in this fantastical world. Not only that though, she is a strong-willed character, fiery and fierce, with the will to survive stronger than anything. And with the amount that she’s been through, I don’t blame her at all.

The characters in this book were well-developed and interesting. Each imperfect character had their vices but also their strengths, and we really see these relationships develop as we walk with Alex through her journey to uncover a mystery. Characters were consistent and meaningful, and despite the sheer number of people that she meets, it wasn’t hard to keep them distinguished and unique, great job here.

Magic. Magic magic magic. I can’t get enough of this world, honestly, despite its darker utility. The “logic” of the magic, and the costs involved are so well executed. Rarely do I find a book where the magic isn’t simply boundless “oh it’s just magic”, but actually tethered to some ground rules that the author sets and abides by. It just makes for a much more consistent world, and less contemplation of “why didn’t they just use magic to solve it” sentiments. Such a job well-done here on the fantasy front.

The world building that abided by this logic, and how the author wove in real history to match up – it just made so much sense, and made this world so believable. And that’s the true magic of such a story, where it can make you believe that it really could be real – that really sucked me right into the story. It’s rare for a magic story to not go through the whole “training” and “schooling” phase of the magic to really introduce readers into the world. Yet somehow this book manages to explore so much of the world (and beyond!) without going through this step. Loved it.

There is also a huge mystery involved in this whole book. I won’t spoil, but there are actually multiple mysteries to be solved. This book opens up a chasm of mysteries and really leaves you wanting answers by the end. And does this book deliver? Yes. Yes it does. All my questions were answered so neatly, so logically, that for me this was one of the most satisfying books I have read in a while. The tensions that were building throughout the whole book, and the most satisfying denouement you can imagine when all the loose ends get tied up in a nice little bow.

For a fantasy book, the climax was also incredibly exciting and well executed. The climax was completely worth all the hype and tension leading up to it, and I didn’t find it cheesy at all. One of the greatest things about his book also was that all the seemingly random details that were added in the build-up almost all come back to be relevant, and not just shoe-horned in either. This was another layer of satisfaction that this story gave me.

Wow, I just really can’t seem to stop praising this book! But before I get to far, let me just mention the one thing that Andge and I both agreed was its weakest point: the beginning. The story takes place mostly over 3 time periods, and with the heavy influx of information at the beginning (as any fantasy usually does), it did start pretty slow. I didn’t have a hard time reading through it, but it did take a bit more concentration to make it through the first little bit. Although considering the initial “drop” of the mystery and suspense in the prologue, Andge and I both agree that the beginning already does quite a great job at orienting us into this world.

We absolutely recommend this one!

Overall Recommendations

Ninth House follows our protagonist, Alex Stern, as she navigates the secret societies at Yale University in addition to keeping up with her studies. As part of the Lethe House, part of her job here is to modulate and regulate the other Houses of the Veil as they conduct their rituals and spells. How did she end up in this position after having been so close to edge of death from an overdose and brutal homicide case? As Alex gets more acquainted with this world, it becomes quickly clear that not all is as it seems, and something sinister may be coming after her. Can she solve the mystery without getting caught in all of it? We highly recommend reading this one here at Down The Rabbit Hole!


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