Long Review incoming. Best be prepared. I’ve warned you now. This review was written in the middle of October (mostly) but I had to wait till after my book club to post it (in case I added more). Fair warning.
Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.
That being said… Spoilers ahead.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardough
Synopsis From The Book
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?
Still searching for answers, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. Their eight windowless “tombs” are the well-known haunts of the rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street’s biggest players. But their occult activities are more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive. They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And, sometimes, they prey on the living.
Initial Thoughts Before Reading:
Impulse buys are the buys I make when I know I want to read a book, but my mind says “so that means right now.” That was me this last weekend (second weekend of October). I was just fed up with people and was no in the mood to read any of the books on my TBR, so what did I do? Buy one of my most anticipated reads instead. Do I regret it? You best believe I do not. I am so excited for this book, you have no idea. Please help, this stand alone is going to destroy me. I just know it.
Bring it on.
After I read this, my mother is going to read this. Then we are going to the book club for B&N for it. I’m so excited. I’m just excited in general for this book. My blood is pumping and screaming for this book. When was the last time I felt this way? Far too long ago.
Initial Thoughts After Reading:
Excitement! That is how I feel and I need the next book. This series is going to be one that destroys me and I already know that but it was brilliant. I can not wait for my mother to read this book! I’ve added a new section just for that. I think that I wasn’t prepared for this book. I thought I was. I was not, and that was exactly what I needed to kick me out of my YA rut. I feel like I need an easy read, if we are being honest. Regardless, lets get into this.
For the case of this plot review I’m going to speak on how this book is written in three acts. Spring, Winter, and Fall. Or rather, Past-Past (Fall), Past (Winter), and Present (Spring). This book is told in the traditional story arc over time in terms of rising and falling plot but there are essentially three time lines here.
This story takes place at Yale, and Alex is a freshmen. She is given a scholarship to work for Lethe, a secret society and the “Ninth House.” Their job is to supervise the other secret societies on campus and make sure no one dies in their magic acts. She has a “big” called Virgil to her “little” Dante. There is Occulus, their assistant , a girl named Pamela Dawes.
We begin with an excerpt from Spring, where Alex is a mess from something. What? We aren’t sure, and we are sent into Winter where Alex is watching a ritual unfold that she was late for. Something goes wrong, and Alex is not sure what, but it was something. She returns home, only to get a call that there has been a murder. Alex goes to check it out, a traditional homicide but something about it does not sit well with Alex. She makes a deal with a ghost named North, and starts to search for the truth.
As Alex investigates this murder, we get chapters of Fall told from Darlington’s perspective. Darlington has disappeared, or implied disappeared by Winter, and we are unsure why but the Fall line is there to show us this as well as to give us information into the secret societies (The Ancient Eight) and their magic as Alex is going through her troubles.
Alex is able to connect Tara’s death to a few of the Ancient Eight, and is attacked multiple times in an attempt to kill her. We learn that of Alex’s past before she came to Yale. This includes her life at home, and what drove her to run away (almost being raped by a ghost), as well as how she got involved in drugs. In cumulates with the fact that her best friend, and perhaps more, Hellie over dosed on drugs and died while at a party. Hellie had saved Alex from being sexually abused by a drug dealer, and Alex used Hellie’s ghosts to kill them all.
We learn that Darlington disappeared one night while he and Alex were investigating a nexus, swallowed into a portal. Later it is determined that it was in fact not a portal, but a mouth — a hellhound– and that is is gone forever. By this point, Alex has been able to narrow down the search for Tara’s killer pretty well, when she is attacked by a guy named Blake.
Earlier in the book, Blake sexual assaults one of Alex’s roommates named Mercy. Mercy was under the influence of a drug that one of the Ancient Eight used, and did things she would not normally do. Alex got revenge, and Blake came to get revenge on her. She discovers then that Blake killed Tara with the drugs and what he had gotten from the Ancient Eight. Many others almost die, but the secret societies keep it hidden and almost everything seems good.
By spring North, the ghost that Alex struck a deal with, will not let her go. She made a deal with him to find out what happened to him and his wife, why they died, and after being forced to look into it, Alex realizes that the death of North’s wife was tied to the creation of the nexus and power wells for the first of the Ancient Eight, and that other girls after her coincided as well.
Alex confronts the Dean of the school, the one who got her into Yale and had her come to control the secrets, because she knows he’s the one who actually tried to kill Tara. He did it for money. He would kill her, and use her death to create a new nexus for one of the eight, who would then pay him. The ritual failed. What they didn’t know was that Daisy, North’s wife, was still alive as a parasite in another body with the identity of Marguerite Belbalm (leader of Alex’s house at the school). She had been eating souls to stay alive and she was the reason that the nexus had formed — by consuming souls. Daisy kills the Dean, and then goes to consume Alex’s soul. Alex fights back and disposes of Daisy. She then disappears and the Dean is said to have died from a heart attack.
By the end, Alex, along with Dawes and Darlington’s Virgil, Michelle, aim to get back Darlington who Alex believes is now a demon.
What I Liked:
Galaxy “Alex” Stern; Wow is Alex beautiful. She is a complicated and rich character. Not once did I think of her actions as strange or unsavory. Yes she did things to survive, but who does, and her actions make sense. Her emotions make sense. I just want her to be able to be normal. Can we just let the girl be happy? But by the end, her stepping up to make change is something I like to see. I can not wait for her story to continue.
Daniel “Darlington” Arlington; Its one thing to be a gentleman. Its another thing to be the smooth talking, presence that is Darlington. He speaks like he is from money, despite the fact that he lived off scraps and almost without electricity for years. He is a believer in magic and would die for it. I love his education, his presence, his need to exist. I was charmed by him and I understand why everyone else was too. He is my love for this book.
Pamela “Pammie” Dawes; She came to me like a wrecking ball. I didn’t expect her to have as large a part as she did, but I’m happy she and Alex became friends. Alex really needed it.
Dean Elliot Sandow; As a primary villain I loved it. He was well developed, his motives good, and his cover up even better. I liked watching as it unfolded and I came to the same conclusions as Alex as she did.
Marguerite Belbalm/ Daisy Fanning Whitlock; This twist got me. I should have saw it coming, from the fact that it was pretty obvious when I thought about it. Like obviously, but I didn’t. I trusted her as Alex trusted her and that’s what made this twist good. I had thought for a small second that she would help Alex and truly become her mentor, but she would not. That broke my heart and I’m happy Alex broke her.
Alex’s Roommates; All of them were lovely with their own personalities and spunk. I hope they come back in subsequent novels. I need more of them. I need more girl time for them all. (Also the fact that they had the one roommate who never socialized was so criminally true.)
Magic System; We may not go too deeply into the magic systems, outside of Alex’s perspectives, but from what they are shown to have, they are well developed. I really liked how the eight houses used their magic, how it was done, and what sorts of sins they had to accomplish to get it. This part of the book was so intricate but woven deeply. I was satisfied with its mystery.
Ghosts; This part, surprised me a bit. I knew this book was about secret societies and murder but I had no idea that ghosts would play such an intricate part of the plot. I was surprised but I fell in love with it. Of course you can’t deal with the afterlife without ghosts. Who was I to think otherwise? A fool is what.
Secret Societies and Yale; I remember going to Yale campus and being hypnotized by it all. I remember falling in love with the houses and the architecture and everything. If anything, reading this book made me salty that my application was never finalized for Yale. Reading about it all took me to a campus I wished I could go to, but in a way that told me, in some ways I’m happy I didn’t. It was very tangible for me, and its been a while since a place was that tangible to me.
Pacing and Twists; I liked how this book was written. We learned what we needed to when it was time. We were led in a way that information was revealed when it was necessary. It was great pacing for me, although I was a bit struck by it at first. The whole final act was properly placed and set up, even if I hadn’t expected it. It was gripping and I loved ever moment.
Content; While some of the content was graphic, I am happy with a lot that was addressed. There are some sorts of traumas that are brushed over that I have seen in my own life that this book touched on and I appreciate this book for looking at them.
Themes; The largest theme of them all was the sense of identity and self. Most of the characters struggled with it, on who they were and what they wanted. Darlington may have seemed like he had it figured out, but in many ways he didn’t. Alex most certainly did not. Additionally the book touched on the need for magic. Everyone loses faith in magic, and the light that is lit when real magic is performed, that is what is important. The knowledge that there is more, you just have to find it. (And for many of us we find that magic in books).
What I Would Have Liked or Changed:
A bit more of a warning of what I was getting into specifically for writing style. So this is yours: There are graphic scenes and imagery. Here are content warnings. The book involves sexual assault, rape, drug abuse, mental abuse, physical abuse and death. (There are more but those are some major ones). This book starts off going full pace, you don’t get the chance to breath. It will all be explained in time, and the questions are there to help you keep pushing so you want to know. It does take time. Its not all going to make sense at first. This is a hard read. It really doesn’t all make sense until much later but it does come. There are two POVs in this book: Alex and Darlington. And there are three time periods: Fall, Winter, Spring.
I say the above not saying I wanted it explicitly stated at the beginning of the book. In fact I don’t want that at all. However I don’t think that I’ve really heard people talk about how intense this book was. Lovely? Exciting? Nerve breaking? Yes, but the intensity of some of the content? No. I am happy I read it, and will never regret that. I simply want others who will read it to have that warning before you do, in case you have triggers. This book is amazing but self care is important.
I’ve read so many YAs in recent weeks that I forgot what Adult novels taste and read like. This reminded me, and I love it. This book is an adult novel and don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking its not.
Thoughts After Book Club:
I don’t really think I learned much from the book club in terms of content. What I did learn was that a lot of people almost DNF or did DNF this book. My mom included (she finished the book for me).
It is hard to start this book. From what I and a few others at the club said: you have to get at least 150pages in for it to pick up. It will not make sense until you start to see how the connections lay out, and the switching perspectives does through people off because it is a non-linear time line. It is hard to read this book up until those connections are made, because you tend to have more questions than actual answers.
The pay off is worth it. I 100% think the payoff for this book is worth it. I think the prose are fabulous, and the characters are to die for. However you need to be warned that this is anything but an easy read.
I also learned, from the book club, that everyone seems to love Darlington as much as I did.
This was my first book club with other people outside of school, and I had a lot of fun. I will definitely return for the next book club. It is for the book Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewel. It seems interesting. I may even think about the YA one, and my mom and I may see if there is one for our library. I forgot how much fun it is to talk about books with other people when they have read the book.
Of course it is also fun to send my thoughts out into the abyss for you all to catch. No hard feelings, but I like hearing others thoughts.
Time Taken To Read
“Its only through mystery and madness that the soul is revealed.” – pg 14
“Death waits on black wings…” – pg 58
“Not every flower belongs in every garden.” – pg 401