Secret Society Magic || Ninth House Review

Initial Thoughts 

Well color me enthralled and just a dash of impressed. I honestly hadn’t expected the end to put in such a bang, but it made all the slowly developing mystery and plot worth the read. I loved Alex’s ferocity and enjoyed the Darlington POVs as well. The whole story ran a bit slow, and I had a hard time keeping track of all the House names and what they did, but thank heavens there’s an appendix at the back to help with that!

Trigger warnings for murder, drugs, rape. It is not a pretty story, I’ll say that much. But still a good one!


by Leigh Bardugo
Flatiron Books, October 2019
Adult fantasy, paranormal, mystery
Rated: 4 / 5 cookies

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. By age twenty, in fact, 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 elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

I don’t think I had any expectations going into this book, other than that it was an adult murder mystery, that it involved secret societies in Yale, and that magic ran amuck within the societies. Honestly, it already ticked the boxes I wanted (magic, college, secret societies, and a murder mystery), and it was penned by the ever-lovely Leigh Bardugo.

I enjoyed the first Grisha trilogy also by Bardugo, and while I have Six of Crows still waiting to be read among other books in her Grishaverse, I decided to change tack a little and read Ninth House, because college secret societies and magic? Yaaas.

Surprisingly enough, though, the college aspect of it all–the “Yale-ness”–was actually my least favorite part of the book. Kudos to Bardugo paying homage to her alma mater, but I actually wasn’t as invested in the societies as I thought I would be. It was difficult when there were nine houses to contend with, and for the longest time I couldn’t tell what the difference was between the societies of Scroll and Key, Book and Snake, and Skull and Bone, other than the fact that each had a different specialty–of which I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head. Honestly, all of the houses–and the entire college atmosphere–felt stuffy, pretentious, and was filled with everything I disliked about academia in general.

(Don’t get me wrong, I love the aspect of learning, and I had a great college experience–when I wasn’t trying to navigate through haughty professors who thought that because they wrote a book, means that they can fail someone for probing and questioning in an essay. Not bitter at all. Nope.)

That being said, the journal entries/writeups in the beginning of certain chapters helped illuminate the types of magic each House was responsible for, and as the book progressed, it became easier to tell one from the other–to a certain point. Thank goodness for the reference pages in the back, because there were so many names and societies to keep track of.

I’ve seen some who really enjoyed the book, and others–some of them also Bardugo fans–are turned off by the pacing, the supremely dark turns, and the fact that yes, this is really not the Grishaverse.

Ninth House is a slow-paced, fantasy/horror, murder mystery with a shitton of trigger warnings. I enjoyed it, but I will admit it took me some time to pick up where I left off from time to time, because of how the story was told.

Ninth House is slow-paced.

There was a lot of exposition, especially with how magic worked and what Alex’s job was about. There was a lot of exposition of how Alex actually made it to Yale, and it took some time for the actual story to start getting interesting. I can definitely understand losing interest early on, but once the pieces finally fell into place, things start to pick up.

Alex blinked. “I think that’s the first time I’ve heard you swear.”

…”I [class profanity] with declarations of love. Best used sparingly and only when wholeheartedly [meant].”

To be honest, I liked that there was a Virgil (Darlington) guiding Dante (Alex) set of chapters in Darlington’s POV, though Alex’s chapters were definitely the most interesting bits. The characters themselves I liked, and often, I found myself loving Alex’s assertive personality; she brought a lot of color and personality into the Yale student body, that’s for sure.

Ninth House is a fantasy/horror.

Magic had almost killed him, but in the end it had saved him. Just like in stories.

Like the Grishaverse–at least, from what I’ve read–Bardugo likes writing things dark. Many of the rituals involving the secret societies deal with the paranormal, but also with blood sacrifices and rituals. The first scene that we’re introduced to in Alex’s POV is a prognostication that Skull and Bone is holding, and that was quite literally a bunch of Skull and Bone members probing the insides of a living alumnus for some kind of prediction of a sort. Surrounding this prognostication are spirits of the dead, all of which Alex sees without any magical inducement. It’s dark, and invokes a proper amount of horror, especially with how frightening the situations become as the story progresses.

Ninth House is a murder mystery with a shitton of trigger warnings.

It’s marketed as an adult fiction, for sure. And there’s a reason to that. If you were looking for trigger warnings, make it known now that this book has all the trigger warnings you could think of.

“You’re saying I triggered the gluma attack?” …

“I’m not saying you did anything…I’m just saying by dint of what you are, you may have brought this on.”…

“That sounds a lot like She was asking for it…”…

“That’s certainly not what I meant to imply.”…

“But that is the implication.”

The murder is itself gruesome, some characters were subjected to rape (of varying degrees–no consent is no consent is no consent), there is a lot of drug use, and the physical abuse and violence is downright grotesque. I’m frankly surprised I liked this book as much as I did, with all of the triggery things that did make me flinch. Perhaps it helped that I’ve watched enough murder mysteries to be fascinated by the macabre, though in no way is this a wholesome thing.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and I’m actually looking forward to reading the next, if only to see how Galaxy Stern will deal with the events post-Ninth House and what happens to Darlington.

4 out of 5 cookies! It’s definitely a far cry from my enjoyment of the first three books in the Grishaverse, but it was still a good read. If I had to recommend a Bardugo book for someone who hasn’t picked her stories up yet, though, I probably wouldn’t go for this one–unless you are more interested in the hard-hitting adult fantasies.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

2 thoughts on “Secret Society Magic || Ninth House Review

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed Ninth House! It is probably my favorite Leigh Bardugo book so far – but then again, I absolutely love dark and twisted stories 😂
    (Also, from what you wrote, it sounds like you have every right to be bitter about that one professor – unfortunately, there seem to be people like that at every uni…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, Bardugo is definitely queen of writing the dark and twisty! (coughDarklingcough) And yes, I think almost every uni grad has at least one account of a prof they’re bitter about, lol!

      Liked by 1 person

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