Book Review: Ninth House
“All you children playing with fire, looking surprised when the house burns down”
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Trigger Topics: rape (of a child), sexual assault under influence of magical drugs, heavy violence, gore, drugs (taking, addiction and overdose), suicide, and forced consumption of human waste.
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. In fact, by age twenty, 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 prestigious universities on a full ride. What's the catch, and why her?
Ninth House is a rush of magic, conspiracy and lies that unravels with every page. But, please read the trigger topics below before reading, and please be in a good place for your mental health with this book.
Ninth House is Leigh Bardugo’s step into adult fiction with this thriller, horror, fantasy and occult themes running through it. I would tend to say this book leans towards occult and thriller than the other two genres.
I was hesitant to read this book initially; I had heard of some of the themes/flashbacks inside and wanted to be in a good mental space to process them. But, I didn’t find them as triggering as I thought, that being said, I’m not entirely sure if all of the topics were there for a reason or rather to shock us, the reader. The scene earlier in the book, with Galaxy (Alex) in the bathroom, made my bones go cold, and whilst I feel something was needed to happen to show why Alex turned to drugs to cope, I’m not entirely sure if this was what needed to happen. However, I found peace with it, the toilet scene much later, still makes me squeamish.
“Not every flower belongs in every garden.”
Leigh’s book isn’t for those who recoil easy. It’s darker than you’d expect, and while I’m not one for a dark book, I did find I enjoyed the plot and the twists within this book. It had me surprised at several points, and when I had reached the halfway point, I found I wasn’t able to put it down.
The world-building in this book’s bar was already set so high because of Leigh’s success in her young adult novels: Grishaverse, Six of Crows, but she didn’t disappoint. The city peeled itself openly in front of me with every page, and the foggish ‘feel’ to its old, ancient history was the perfect place for Alex Stern and Darlington’s story to unfold.
Darlington was the most intriguing character, and unfortunately, his chapters become so far and few between that it becomes an obvious pull for a sequel—which I’ll obviously be buying anyway, but you can sense the book won’t be wrapped up when Darlington’s story becomes evident. Alex, however, feels like Leigh’s attempt at making a young adult character seem grown-up. There are elements there where you feel that Alex maybe, but she borders that line of annoying lead you want to shake and the lead you want to root for. There’s a woman inside who wants to live, who is fighting to be seen, but somehow still chooses to skirt around the edges of the place she lived. This, however, didn’t deter me from continuing, and I’m excited to see her explode into the characters she’s clearly brewing to be.
“Even alligators have parents, Dawes. That doesn't stop them from biting”
I think this is primarily why I struggled to feel the connection to the book at the beginning. I feel Alex began to pull at me when Darlington’s chapters become non-existent, and I’m not sure if it’s because she became more interesting or if it’s because I needed her to know what happens. That being said, as mentioned before, I found it hard to put down at this point. It also gave a platform for Pammie to grab at our hearts, and for an unsurprising character to float into the story—if you've read this, you know who I’m referring to.
Alex’s past is scattered through the book, dripping us information to push ahead with the story and explain her cold front. Some may not like this, but I loved it.
Darlington’s is dangled in front of us. The boy who wanted to be wanted, having expectations from his parents we know, as the audience, won’t come to fruition; the boy who wishes for magic, and discovers it’s a reality he can be a part of. The ending of the book leads me to wonder if we will get more of his past, more of his desires and what makes him, him. Mainly because Leigh usually doesn’t hold back elements of her characters, and there are chunks of him missing from this initial book.
Although, as I say this, I do love that. I like not having all the cards, to begin with, and it also leaves me guessing—which is something I love. I end up finding a book disappointing if it’s too predictable, and Leigh’s strength in this book is that it is not predictable, not even close. The story fluctuates from theme to theme in a dazzling, but enjoyable way, and for me, it’s a rarity in the books I tend to lean towards.
“Do you know what my mother said?" Turner asked. "She told me there's no doorway the devil doesn't know. He's always waiting to stick his foot in. I never really believed her until tonight”
There is a huge chunk of this boom embedded in occult, societies, magic and all the things you wish could be true in the world. To the point, I closed the book and did wonder if maybe I should go and investigate if such things existed in ancient old buildings. It grips you, sticking its claws in that makes you desperate to know everything and yet fearful of knowing too much, especially as you discover the price and cost of knowing.
Overall, I think this book handled a lot of difficult topics including drug taking, overdose, abuse, rape, PTSD and trauma. It tackles them in a way where you end up believing that you can get back the part of you that an abuser has stolen from you. It is empowering in a way you wouldn’t expect, and it reminds you that your worst mistake won’t be the end of you. There’s an after to a horrid event, and there is a future for those who experienced things they’re not sure they can come back from.
I loved the plot, the delicate tugs at the heart and the magic dancing through the pages, that pull you underground and leave you wondering if hooded figures are meeting up to possess magic from the salt of the earth.
I don’t think this book is for everyone. It will split you, it will make you ask yourself if you enjoyed it or not, and you may find that friends read this and do not enjoy this. For me, though, the things I love screamed louder than the things I didn’t, and for that, I’ll be buying the sequel.
Plus, I do need more Darlington—just to be honest.