Hi friends! This was the very last book on my September TBR and I stayed up until 12:30 last night to finish it even though I had to be up at 7:30 for work because I’m not a quitter, goddamn it. I’m pretty proud of myself! This is the first month in a little bit where I’ve been able to finish all the books on my TBR, and given that my October list is five standalone books long, I’m pretty confident in next month too. Noice!
Post blog-writing note: If I took a shot for every time I tried to press Ctrl + I to italicize Ninth House but got overly excited to start typing and pressed Ctrl + N and opened a new window instead, I’d be dead by now.
Synopsis & Quick Thoughts
Ninth House is Leigh Bardugo’s first foray into adult novels. Galaxy “Alex” Stern is a high-school dropout, former drug addict, and homicide survivor. She can also see ghosts (known as Grays). Because of her unique abilities, she’s recruited to be a part of Lethe, a house at Yale that monitors the occult activities of the university’s eight secret societies. Caught up in a disappearance and a murder that might not be what it seems, it’s up to Alex to figure out what’s really going on at Yale.
I have Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and Shadow and Bone on my shelf, but I’ve never read anything by her before (I know, I know). This was an interesting start. I think Ninth House is pretty polarizing in a lot of book communities, and I hate to be that person but I’m right in the middle. It was just fine. Probably my favorite book that I read this month, but it was by no means perfect. The magical realism and the plot concepts were well-conceived, but the execution and details fell and little short for me.
I’ve never been to Yale. I don’t know anything about Yale. I didn’t even know that the real Yale actually has the secret societies that were mentioned in the book, so I had to do a little bit of research on that once I figured it out, so here’s a positive and a negative from me, since they’re too intertwined to separate into these categories. Positive: Bardugo does a great job of weaving in occult and magical elements into the concrete existence of the societies. It gives off a very mysterious and dark feel that I really enjoyed and appreciated. The negative? Um, Bardugo went to Yale and was part of one of the Ancient Eight (Wolf’s Head). She’s also mentioned in interviews that she sees a lot of herself in Alex, so this book feels like one pretentious “I’m not like the other girls” self-insert. It didn’t ruin my reading experience in the slightest because I didn’t know about any of this until my research this morning, but it is kind of interesting to note and reflect on.
I liked the foil between Darlington and Alex. I enjoyed Dawes’s character development, as well as Turner’s (though his seemed a little rushed to me). The reveals were good, although predictable, and I had a fun time reading; it was super easy for me to get sucked back into the story and all of my reading days had me getting through ~100 pages. I also appreciated how there appears to be one overarching plot thread to connect the books in this series together (so of course not everything is going to be wrapped up neatly at the end of this book), but Ninth House was very much a complete story with its own contained arc. I didn’t feel like I had to wait and read the following books to get satisfaction from this first novel, which I always greatly appreciate.
A lot of the execution of this book was messy, and even if the style of storytelling were different it could have bumped my rating up half a start. Ninth House is told in dual perspective for part of the novel, and in alternating timelines. I like alternating POVs. I like changing timelines. Combining the two is just too much. We end up with three different combinations of POV and time to keep track of, and combined with the multiple conflicts and long, long list of names, I felt like I was doing more work to orient myself in the story than I was following the plot. I think the plot points would have had just as much impact if the story had been told linearly with alternating perspectives, but that’s just my two cents.
Most of my suggestions don’t need extensive explanation, but their role in the story really did hinder my enjoyment overall. I think a number of the characters, mainly Alex, needed more developed motivation. Her choices to do what she did throughout the novel didn’t align with the personality that had been constructed earlier on in the timeline, but there were no motives or character arcs developed to help account for those changes. Most of the novel was pretty slow. It wasn’t bad per se, but when the action picked up I had blast. The changes in pace were a little jarring, since the action scenes were fairly contained, and I wish that pace was more evenly distributed throughout the plot. This also seems to fit the young adult genre more than adult, but that’s just me being nitpicky about categorization.
Rating & Final Thoughts
Ninth House gets 3.5 out of 5 stars. Generally speaking, I had a fun time. No complaints. There are definitely a number of issues that prevent me from giving this book a higher score, mainly the confusing construction and pacing problems, but I’m excited to read more of Bardugo’s work. Depending on the synopsis of the next book in the series and some early reviews, I might continue with this series, but I’m also content to treat this as a standalone for now.
Buy Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo here.*
*as a reminder, I am an Amazon affiliate and make a small commission off of purchases made using my link.