Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo is a deeply dark, disturbing, and wickedly beautiful adult fantasy novel that is slow to start but ultimately fantastic. This book has mature themes so please take note of the trigger warnings below.
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.
It’s taken me a while to process this book. Even now, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to articulate a review or my thoughts on this, but here goes.
Ninth House is incredibly dark and gory. This is really the first and only book I’ve read in this fantasy-horror-supernatural genre, so I have nothing to compare it to, but it was graphic and disturbing. It was also excellently written, beautiful, and completely original.
Ninth House follows Alex Stern as she navigates her new and mysterious role as part of Lethe House—the supernatural watchdog for Yale’s secret societies. That’s honestly an over-simplification of the plot, but I don’t want to give anything away. The less you know about this book (minus the TWs—you should know about those, which I’ll touch on below) the more interesting it is, in my opinion.
It takes a while to ramp up. I would say that I didn’t feel engaged and drawn in until about 160 pages in. From what I’ve seen, I’m not alone here. I encourage folks to keep going, though, because the rest of Ninth House is absolutely un-put-downable. (My encouragement is subject to the TWs below because it’s REALLY important that you take note of the TWs before reading.)
TWs: sexual assault and rape involving a child, substance abuse, self-harm, overdose, graphic violence and gore. And okay, there’s really no other way to put this, consumption of human waste.