Title: Ninth House
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Fantasy, Contemporary, Adult
My Rating: 3 stars
“People didn’t need magic to be terrible to each other.”
I wasn’t entertained by this book nearly as much as I thought I was going to be, but my expectations did start out really high. I love everything I’ve read by Leigh Bardugo, and was expecting a lot from this. In the end I was happy that I took the time to finish it while also disappointed with what I was given as a whole. The beginning of this novel was dense with information: places, people, groups, names, dates, and references. It was a lot to keep track of, and did a poor job of keeping my interest. Each person had their given name and then also a title or nickname they went by, so I had a page of notes reminding me that Pamela Dawes was “Oculus” and Abel Turner was “Centurion” and that the hideout over the clothing store was called Hutch. There was a lot to learn and once you figured it all out things were fine, but it hurt the opening of the story. The campus atmosphere paired with a dark shade of magic did succeed in giving this book an ambiance that I loved. It reminded me a bit of Deborah Harkness’ Discovery of Witches series, which had a setting that was academic while also being magical and a bit dangerous.
– a necklace that protects the wearer from lightning strikes, enchanted orange trees that bear fruit year-round, ghosts and ghouls and inmates who can walk through walls
– magical campus with lots of atmosphere
– stilted pacing, info dumps
– writing that missed the mark, a novel that was long in all the wrong places
– MC with few redeeming qualities
– too much going on at once, no clear focus
It felt like the writing came so close to being spellbinding, but that it missed the mark in numerous instances. For example: when the magical library in Il Bastone was being described, I expected to love it just because it was a magical library, and ended up coming out of the experience underwhelmed. (It was pretty cool how the library and requesting books from it worked, though!) The pacing felt off throughout; there would be sections that were super interesting and that I flew through, followed by pages of slow moving plot that I would get distracted from and have to go back to reread. Thankfully this trend ended around the halfway mark, and I finished the tail end of the book fairly quickly.
“This town is a peculiar one. The Veil is thinner here, the flow of magic easier. It eddies in the nexuses, but there is magic in every stone, every bit of soil, every leaf of every old elm. And it is hungry.”
I think I would have had a better experience with this book if I knew from the start what the point of the story would be. It’s about processing trauma and horrible experiences, a murder mystery, solving a disappearance, going to college, policing the magical societies, and dealing with ghosts- among other things. There was a lot going on, and I enjoyed most of it, but I think the story would have benefitted from more of a direction from the start. Each individual aspect was interesting in itself, but there was too much going on at once. When things started to finally pull together towards the end was when the book really hit its flow. The magic system in this book was unique and fun to watch the characters play around with. I would have liked to see much more of that instead of the things of lesser importance that had pages spent on them.
“I’m not a murderer,” said North, reaching for her.
She smiled and let her fingers clasp his.
“Of course not,” she said. “Neither am I.”
This book had a large focus on trauma and dealing with your past. Alex has had unimaginable things happen to her, and we watch her while she tires to recover and move past these events. We got to see some character growth from Alex, and saw her start to accept who she is and what she can be instead of hiding from herself. Alex was a really interesting character; she felt flat to me in the beginning, but once we began to learn about her past and what made her into this Alex, I started to appreciate who she was and what she’d been through. The one negative thing about Alex was that she did really bad things in her past, and still continued to do some of those things/act in those ways at times; I had trouble finding redeeming characteristics in her, but she was trying to do better and turn her life around throughout the novel and that did help a bit. I have seen it mentioned in numerous reviews that there are many things described in this book that can be triggering, and while I’m not easily bothered by most things, if you are personally worried then I would recommend you check out some reviews that mention what is covered in this novel in that regard. Some of it felt needed and some of it felt unnecessary, but overall I wasn’t deterred from the story by what was included.
Leigh Bardugo did a wonderful job of portraying the friendships Alex had and making them feel real. I would have liked to see a lot more of Darlington, and I adored Dawes as a side character. My favorite portions of the book were focused on Alex’s interactions with Darlington, the times we were able to learn about Alex’s past, and when Alex spent time with her roommates or with Dawes. I’d like to find out more about Alex and her family, and whether she can develop more of a relationship with them and/or figure out more about her family history. It does seem like this book will segue into a story that contains much more Alex and Darlington, so I’m looking forward to the series improving and enjoying it more from here on out.
“So,” she said as the wind picked up, shaking the new leaves on their branches, moaning over the gravestones like a mourner lost to grief. “Who’s ready to go to hell?”