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.
I’m going to start out by saying that I absolutely loved Ninth House, I know that it’s a pretty polarising book and that for some the triggers in this book are too many. I’m just going to say it one more time for the people at the back and say this is NOT YA, if you’re expecting the Grishaverse in a contemporary setting, then please think carefully as this is not the Leigh Bardugo you will be expecting. I managed to grab the Waterstones edition of this book and it is utterly gorgeous, I’m a huge fan of hidden covers but this one is pretty special given the spine design and it was also signed by the great lady herself.
Alex Stern is a character that I would defy anyone not to feel sympathy for, her troubles are not by her own design yet she has been discarded by society and left to deal with her horrifying ability alone. From this stems the fact that beyond all else this book is very, very dark. Despite the wonderful opportunity she has been gifted, it far from makes up for her suffering, her character is hard and defensive but also one who doesn’t wish to see others wronged in the way she was. She is a wonderfully complex character with an underlying intelligence which has never been given the opportunity to present itself.
I found the history behind the houses utterly fascinating and it’s this that gives the story it darker magical feel, how each house garnered it’s name, how each has a unique ability and ceremony. Ninth House really sticks two fingers up at the privileged white man, none of whom come out particularly well in this book, it’s an incendiary look at the toxicity in the frat house environment, which as a Brit looking in feels so alien. The sense of entitlement these characters have over others and over women especially, is abhorrent and I have never felt such a writhing hatred for a character than one that you’ll find here. My day job has desensitised me to a lot and I rarely feel triggered, but this particular character really touched a nerve with me. Knowing that these mostly horrible human beings will grow into the next generations rich and influential, in this fictional world was frightening. The author cleverly adding in enough nuggets of current life to make that distinction a difficult one at times.
I enjoyed the fluctuating time frames and the countdown element between the two could have made this book feel like a race but everything is so perfectly placed and never rushed, it felt like Leigh Bardugo was savouring every moment of writing for an older demographic, her use of language is exceptional and so rich in creativity, although I have to say that the closing paragraph proves that you can take the girl out of YA but you can’t take YA out of the girl!
This book has finally pulled me out of my YA bubble and I found it a darkly compelling read with a world within touching distance to our own, I hope this isn’t the last we see of Alex.