Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (a review)
Updated: Nov 2, 2021
GENRE: Adult Paranormal Mystery
LENGHT: 450 pages
Set in Yale, the novel follows Galaxy ‘Alex’ Stern who has the ability to see Grays (ghosts). She has a troubled past but is offered a new beginning if she joins Lethe and is tasked with monitoring the activities of the underground magical societies of Yale. The novel revolves around the mystery of who killed a local girl, Tara.
Bardugo has a talent for writing morally gray (no pun intended) characters and getting you to care about them. She succeeds in this with Alex who, as the novel unfolds, we learn more and more about. She is a layered character who I was invested in. Alex's mentor Darlington was someone who in a way I (and I would guess many others) could relate to. He was a lonely child who longed for the magical world to be real. He's responsible and sometimes pompous.
Dawes, another member of Lethe, is very reserved and studious. I liked her relationship with Alex and how it developed over the course of the novel. She's a very quiet character but she is also essential to this story. Detective Turner is a police officer who knows all about Lethe and works for them secretly. He and Alex have a very tumultuous relationship. I found his exasperation with her to be quite humorous.
Finally, there is the bridgegroom who is a gray that Alex allies herself with. I thought it was neat how Bardugo made a ghost an actual character with dialogue, history and personality.
The novel is told from the third person perspectives of Alex and Darlington. It switches from present day (early winter) to past (fall). The novel's beginning drops you into the middle of a story in some ways. We already know the fate of one character but not how they got there. I think some may find the style disjointed but it held my attention the entire way through. Once you're a few chapters in you get your bearings. It works well with the mystery aspect of the novel.
The novel also includes brief excerpts from the book of Lethe procedures and also the diary entries of past members of Lethe. I liked this a lot and especially its placements since it often preceded a chapter dealing with the society discussed. In this way it acted as a sort of sneak peak into what was to come.
One of the best things about the novel was how we got to see glimpses of many different societies and their magic instead of just focusing on the one. It makes the magic of this world feel vaster even despite it being strictly regulated. By far my absolute favorite location in the novel was the magical library. As a reader the idea of being able to write down whatever I'm looking for in a book and have the library curate it for me is very appealing! Alex makes use of a lot of the magical tools at her disposal and nothing was ever introduced just for the sake of it. It all had a purpose within the story.
This novel is ideal for lovers of dark academia or those just dipping their toes into the mystery genre. This is the book that first made me curious about exploring mysteries. There do need to be some MAJOR trigger warnings. The novel depicts a drug overdose, graphic violence, an adult woman's sexual assault, and the graphic rape of a child. If any of these would be triggering to you then I strongly caution you against reading this book. Otherwise, though, it is a good mix of fantasy and mystery and one of Bardugo's best books. I anxiously await its sequel!
FINAL RATING: 5⭐️