In book review

REVIEW: Ninth House



Title: Ninth House
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre(s):  Adult, Mystery, Thriller
Release: October 2019
Rating: ✭✭✭✭✭/5

"I let you die. To save myself, I let you die.
That's the danger in keeping company with survivors."

To be perfectly honest, I wasn't sure if Ninth House was going to be a book for me. While I've loved Bardugo's other series (specifically Six of Crows), I would even go so far as to say she is one of my favorite writers, the many mixed reviews for Ninth House in combination with the fact this was pitched as a horror-y adult thriller didn't really manage to excite me. But, boi, am I glad to say that I was WRONG. Ninth House proved to be such a perfect read for the gloomy fall months.

I thought the concept of this book was very unique, albeit a little bit vague, as expected from Bardugo. We follow Alex Stern, who is a member of a secret society at Yale university. What happens at this society is very much a mystery. All that is clear is that it involves death, ghosts, and magic. Alex goes on a hunt for Darlington, one of the leaders of this society, as he has disappeared a month prior. 

The writing never let me down in this one, and Bardugo definitely shows why she's such a popular author. I didn't peg myself as someone who loves dark adult reads, but the mystery aspect in combination with the atmospheric setting (that is lovingly termed "Dark Academia" by many) really did it for me. I've seen people say that Ninth House was too slow-paced for them, which I can definitely see as a negative, however, I wasn't really bothered by it myself. The pacing, for me, was just right. It might be the atmospheric writing, or the fact that I was very intrigued by the mystery aspect (as I never really read thrillers), but I really flew through this, as opposed to a lot of fantasies with heavy worldbuilding, for example.

I might not be the most seasoned thriller/mystery reader, but I highly enjoyed the mystery aspect in this. However, I did think that for almost half of the book the story wasn't very apparent. It took a long time to set up, which I personally didn't mind, as it added to the suspense of the novel, but I can see how this would turn a lot of readers off.

An interesting writing decision in Ninth House is the non-linear timeline. We follow Alex in the Winter season, after Darlington has disappeared, and we get flashbacks to the previous fall, when Darlington initiates Alex into their society. While not a fan of flashbacks in, for example, romance books, I thought this format worked really well for Ninth House as it maintained a lot of the suspense and mysterious elements.

Additionally, we follow two POV's: Alex and Darlington's, who are polar opposites of each other. While Alex has drug-issues, and is only trying to survive amidst the chaos of her life, Darlington is an academic. I've seen some people say that Darlington is an older version of Gansey from The Raven Cycle, which is an apt comparison. The contrast between the two characters, however, is what makes their dynamic so interesting to read about. Darlington invites Alex into their cultish society because of her ability to see ghosts, and, as we soon learn, there's a distinct chemistry between the two.

As this is Bardugo's first published attempt at writing and Adult series, I think a lot of people expected this to still have a YA feel. This is definitely NOT the case, and I think the marketing also has tried their best to convey this. Ninth House is definitely not suited for a younger audience, as it contains a lot of heavy and dark topics, that could be more pronounced before starting the book. Accordingly, there are trigger warnings for: sexual assault, non-con, over drug use, addiction, gore, violence, murder. 

I've read that Bardugo plans to make this a five-book series, which I'm not sure how I feel about, as I initially thought this would be a duology. However, with the introduction of so many complex secret societies, I'm sure there will be enough material to explore for any future books. Ninth House, in the end, managed to completely surprise me (in a positive way) and I can't wait for the sequel.

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