5* out of 5
My favourite book by Leigh Bardugo thus far. Hands down. No question.
When I went into Ninth House, I knew almost nothing about it; all I knew was that it was dark academia-type book involving secret societies at Yale. I didn’t even know there were ghosts or arcane magic and I was already like “SIGN. ME. UP.” Once I discovered the fantastical/paranormal aspects of the novel, I was practically giddy, especially when I saw just how dark this book was.
BECAUSE WOW IS THIS BOOK DARK.
I love it.
I feel like this is the kind of darkness Bardugo has not only always been capable of writing, but has been itching to write. Young Adult literature presents some aspects of self-censorship; there’s only so far you can really go before it’s probably a bit too much. Now, I don’t think that means a “young adult author” can’t write adult — quite the contrary. I knew Jay Kristoff as an adult fantasy writer for his Lotus War series long before he started writing with Amie Kaufman. So when he started releasing Nevernight, I wasn’t at all surprised that it was a very adult fantasy novel. I also wasn’t surprised that there was plenty of readers and readers’ parents who were outraged over the content because “he’s a young adult author, how can he write this for younger readers?”
Newsflash: he wasn’t.
Second newsflash: this book is not for younger readers.
Ninth House features intense subjects and does not shy away from not only describing them, but also examining the fallout. This is a book about power — who has it, who wants it, and how far they are will to go with/for it. We’re at Yale, after all: this is where the rich and, therefore, powerful go to received the highest level of education and will have everything to both lose and gain as a result. The members of the Societies are all too pretty, too powerful, and entirely untrustworthy.
And Alex Stern trusts no one — with good reason — and these “perfect” people of the Societies with their “perfect” lives, even less. But don’t you think she doesn’t want that; of course she wants that kind of power and the safety it provides. So she clings with her entire being to that sliver of power she has come to possess, because if she lets her guard down, she knows that she could be easily discarded. She sees the world for what it is, and comes out swinging in every interaction as a result. Personally, I kind of love that about her.
Also, Darlington. Bless, Darlington. The gentleman in a world that consumes gentlemen whole; who chews them up and spits them out. This young man is nothing less and nothing more than an absolutely, genuinely good person. He’s certainly not perfect, and he even admits that he is a hair on the side of judgemental, especially of first impressions (c.f. Alex), but he does always try to do the right thing. I just love him, and his perspective was not only a welcome surprise, but an ultimately necessary addition to the story.
And this story. I can’t believe I’m about to use an onion metaphor but this story is a goddamn onion: just when you peel back a layer, there’s a whole ‘nother layer. It’s complex, it’s richly-imagined, and it’s so well thought out that it boggles my mind. That Bardugo was able to not only conceive of this mystery, but to also manage the numerous, intertwining threads it contains. Only by the end do you see the entire, big picture. And, oh man, was that big picture worth every sentence.
I cannot sing this book’s praises enough and I am more than ready for the next novel in the series. Bring it on, Bardugo. Bring it on.
mors irrumat omnia