Ninth House Review: Revenge, the Occult and Secret Societies

October 18, 2019 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 3 stars, Books, Reviews

Ninth House Review: Revenge, the Occult and Secret SocietiesNinth House by Leigh Bardugo
Series: Alex Stern #1
Published by Gollancz, Hachette Australia on October 9, 2019
Source: Publisher
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Fiction
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The mesmerizing adult debut from #1 New York Times bestselling author Leigh Bardugo

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.

Please take note of the trigger warnings before delving into this book because the depictions are incredibly detailed and dark.

Trigger warnings: child rape and sexual abuse, date rape, drug and substance use, overdose, self-harm, murder, blood, gore, PTSD and grief 

Like most of the blogosphere, Ninth House is one of our most highly anticipated books of the year, not only because it’s the new book by our favourite Grisha Queen, Leigh Bardugo, but also because the premise is about a girl hellbent on revenge. We always love a morally grey antagonist and that’s exactly what we get here.

So what is Ninth House about?

It’s about vengeance in the most satisfying form and pulls no punches when it comes to delivering justice.

It’s about secret societies and the dangerous influences behind the rich and the powerful and how they have no care for others while furthering their agenda.

It’s about the survival of an aggrieved girl who has undergone horrors of abuse by the hands of someone she trusted.

It’s about a girl who can see ghosts, who discovers dark magic and hallucinogenic substances that are more about causing harm than good.

Finally, it’s about putting the past behind you and fighting for others who can’t fight for themselves. Because all they have, is you.

Maybe all rich people asked the wrong questions. For people like Alex, it would never be what do you want. It was always just how much can you get?

This is definitely not a YA book

Ninth House is one of those books that is best going in without knowing what you’ll get, because you’ll just have to rely on the author’s craft to take you through the journey. This is definitely a book in the adult category, with the main character Alex Stern and her friend Darlington both in Yale.

Fighting against Yale’s secret societies that practice in the occult and sorcery, the two have a lot of power and authority against them. In fact, their journey seems neigh impossible from the start.

However, when you learn that Alex can see ghosts, that she will stop at nothing to get justice for missing girls who are used for other’s gain, when you hear about her story of surviving abusers who she put her trust in…you can get behind where she wants to go.

There are a lot of detailed adult scenes in here, some which I struggled with myself, particularly the ones detailing child sexual abuse and the abuse of power. This book is definitely a dark one, and you really need to be equipped for what you’ll get here before delving in.

What was the reading experience like?

Well, maybe there was something broken and shriveled in her, because she felt only a deep calm in knowing what she was capable of.

I actually really struggled with Ninth House in the beginning, as we delve in headfirst into Alex and Darlington’s life. Alex has just started college, she doesn’t know who to trust, and she feels like an outsider. That’s definitely nothing new to her, but there’s something warm and cosy about the promise of college. Until you know what you’re in for that is – the frat parties, the secret societies, the abuse of power and the professors that seem to have something against someone like her.

Being Australian – and unfamiliar with the background of Yale and what it offers, it took me a fair while to get used to all of the college lingo and the descriptions of the different houses and societies. Landmarks and name dropping were abundant, along with a very dense first few chapters which are also non-linear, punctured with descriptions of the past which didn’t really help things. In fact it wasn’t until I was at almost 130 pages before things started picking up for me.

Is it worth reading?

Peace was like any high. It couldn’t last. It was an illusion, something that could be interrupted in a moment and lost forever.

After my initial setback however, I really grew interested in Alex Stern’s life. It’s obvious she’s a dark and edgy character, but I also liked how she is kind of an antagonist. I really liked hearing how she could see ghosts and see her uncover the problem with the hierarchy in front of her. She’s not afraid to tell things like it is and when it comes to frat boys who abuse women, Alex Stern is the survivor who will kick them to the kerb. I could definitely see how this book was cathartic to write for the author, because the heavy dose of feminism and fighting against the system was just so…satisfying.

I also really liked Darlington as a character, he’s polite, privileged and oh-so-proper and the two of them could snark all day and I’ll be here for it.

The real crux of the book, featuring the occult, the sorcery, the witchcraft and the ghosts…let me tell you, there is a lot of this magic and the Yale college setting was perfect for it.

Ninth House does take a bit of getting used to, but once you are there, it’s an incredibly satisfying read. Ninth House is haunting, stabby, and completely and utterly DARK and should you be prepared for it, you’re in for an unforgettable experience about revenge and fighting against the patriarchy.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Thanks to Hachette Australia for sending me a review copy!

Ninth House is available from Australian bookstores for RRP$29.99 or from The Book Depository.

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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Tiktok@happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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6 responses to “Ninth House Review: Revenge, the Occult and Secret Societies

  1. Lovely review, Jeann! I’m happy you ended up enjoying the book despite a rocky start. I have to say, I’m still on the fence about reading it, because while I’m really curious about the whole Yale and secret societies vibe, I’m not too certain I will be able to handle these trigger warnings really well.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

  2. I really loved this one!! I know it’s getting a bit of a bad rap for being dark, but I mean it’s adult and paranormal/horror so I feel like it should be expected of it? I’m cautious at the criticism for it being too dark when I know a ton of male fantasy authors write similarly with no questioning. But then it is up to personal taste, and what individuals like to read! I’m glad you enjoyed parts of it though, Jeann. I have so much anticipation for that sequel ahhh.

    • It was definitely an enjoyable read, now that I have distanced myself from it I find myself appreciating it more! I was actually triggered by some of the scenes in the book, so I was glad to be forewarned beforehand. I think it’s because a lot of her readers are YA, so they naturally pick this one up expecting the same. Looking forward to the sequel!

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