Of magic, murder, and malignant motivations, Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House traverses the world of occultist secret societies with a story as alluring as it is corrupt.
The only life Alex Stern has ever known was one of drugs, bad boyfriends, and the strange people only she can see. Poverty-stricken and dabbling with the wrong crowd, Alex lives a life of just barely getting by. Until she winds up in the hospital after being the only survivor of a homicide, and it’s there where everything changes, with a full-ride offer to attend Yale University. However, her studies are the least of her worries, for she’s recruited as a member of Lethe–an organization devoted to keeping Yale’s other secret societies in line, ensuring their occult practices abide by protocols.
However, when a dead body is discovered nearby, Lethe’s determined to turn a blind eye, writing it off as an instance unrelated to the societies’ rituals. Except Alex, whose nagging intuition sends her spiraling into the societies’ cryptic web of secrecy, dirty dealings, and a case that hits too close to home.
Bardugo’s Ninth House melds two very distinct genres (fantasy and mystery) in a seamless marriage of magic and murder mystery that grips and doesn’t let go. From the moment you read Bardugo’s ominous first line— “By the time Alex managed to get the blood out of her good wool coat, it had been too warm to wear it”—Ninth House has already ensnared you into its dark, gritty, and, for readers at times, emotionally-taxing world.
Alex’s story burrows much further than just skin-deep, beyond her physical scars and latching onto those that can’t be seen; it goes beyond magic-wielding monsters to those without such abilities, those who don’t need rituals and incantations to commit unspeakable acts. Albeit difficult to read at certain points, it adds an unparalleled realness, a rawness to both Alex’s character and the story as a whole.
Bardugo’s characters harbor such uniqueness not only in personality, but also in the likeable, yet equally wary feelings they dredge up in readers. Despite their endearing qualities, you can’t help but approach certain characters with a critical eye, a roving skepticism, for motive runs equally rampant among each society. And it makes you question each interaction Alex has with these characters, whether their alibis are iron-clad or the proclamations leaving their lips are actual truth. Readers play detective right alongside Alex, and it imbues the book with a keep-you-guessing air that’s simply magnetic. As soon as you think you’ve cracked the case, Ninth House shifts gears with a new revelation even more shocking than the last.
A story as intricate and compulsory as the magic it withholds, Ninth House enchants at every turn.