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Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (Book review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 Stars)

“I want to survive this world that keeps trying to destroy me.”

It was a Friday afternoon. It was cold and damp as it always is in this part of the world, and I was ready to hop on a train journey. Three hours would take me to my final destination, a rural small town on the west coast of Ireland. To a house old and quaint, surrounded by mist and pine trees.

That’s how my Ninth House adventure began. The moving train, the windows damp with condensation, the night chasing the tracks, falling above us and making the light inside the train more and more unnatural.

And while I experienced all of that, I traveled. Not inside the vehicle per se, but to the harsh, cold and mystical town of New Haven, having Alex Stern as my guide.

Ninth House leaks ambiance. The setting is difficult and uneasy, it’s dark and scary. I admit that I did a bit of research prior to my reading (and I recommend you do the same if possible) to get a better understanding of the real houses (or tombs) of Yale. The Scroll and Key, Skull, and Bones, Book & Snake, etc. After I had them in my head pared with the map that comes with the book the setting was complete. I could walk along with Alex through the streets and feel the energy of those houses with her.

It’s a wild ride. Like being on a roller coaster that you think might turn left only to dip abruptly to the right. You never know exactly were Bardugo is taking you, and sometimes it is frustrating to want to go in one direction only to be pulled into the other. I dind’t mind it though, mostly because everything ties together in the end and you get a feeling that no unnecessary journeys were made. At some point in the book I was scared we were going to be left with few answers and a long list of unanswered questions, but the conclusion came neatly, also creating an immensely satisfying set up for the follow-up book in the series.

About the characters: Alex is a badass anti-hero that honestly just deserves a break. She’s is the ultimate victim, and at the same, not a victim at all. It’s interesting to read about flawed characters and I felt for Alex, and most of the time I just wanted to read about her watching the world burn.

Pamela/Dawes is the necessary softness to Alex. She counterbalances Alex’s hard edges by being focused, motherly with a calm but intense aura of knowledge.

Darlington… I feel like there’s no way to talk about Darlington without comparing a bit of him with another very famous Bardugo character – The Darkling. Daniel Arlington is the gentleman of Lethe and he exudes a mysterious atmosphere. Just like The Darkling, Darlington’s presence in the pages is enticing and you just want more. I think that’s why the set up was so good, because Bardugo has a way of making us crave certain characters, and I wholeheartedly believe that Daniel’s absence is extremely calculated to feed the mystery and expand the desire to see him interacting with a more independent Alex.

The surrounding cast is interesting but not as memorable. Hopefully, we will get to see a bit more of them (like Centurion, for example) and the activities and rituals of the houses with a more in-depth knowledge in the books to come. I understand that we needed to step into the naive shoes of Alex and go through the discoveries with her before just going straight to the deep end. So, even though, yes I wanted to understand more of the connection of the rituals (how they started, how they channel magic) and the impact they have in the real world, I was satisfied with snippets here and there, that helped bring this universe to life.

Ninth House also brings to the surface important debates of privilege, victim-blaming and abuse, substance abuse, corruption, and power.

“It was one thing to be told magic existed, quite another to have it literally give you the finger.”

So my recommendation is: go find your own moody corner, settle in, and start reading. This is a fantastical book that, if you let it, will transport you to a darkly magical world where monsters are definitely real.

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