Review: Ninth House (Alex Stern #1) by Leigh Bardugo

When this book came out, I jumped at it! I have read the Grisha books, specifically the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and while I didn’t love every book, I remember feeling like they had a lot of imagination with ambitious characters and for a YA series, there was a lot to enjoy. But I never really read anything else from Leigh Bardugo after that trilogy. But naturally her books are quite popular and can be found on many shelves around the blog-o-sphere.

When I saw this one was coming out, I wasn’t exactly ready to buy it or even put it on my TBR—-until I started seeing all these posts and reviews about how good it was—-THEN I was jumping to get my hands on it. I even got an autographed copy that’s how excited I was for this one. Then it came and I read the opening prologue and decided it wasn’t for ‘right now’. Keep in mind it came out Oct 2019, so it SHOULD have been a ‘right now’ book for me based on the creepy content, but I had finished reading some other heavy horror books at the time and I just wasn’t up for it. So I put it on my bookshelf. Then COVID hit and I just wanted to read something happy. So there it sat for the next few years.

Until, Hell Bent was released a few weeks ago. I had a renewed interest in The Ninth House, since I ordered Hell Bent. I had no idea this was even meant to be a series, but evidently it is. And it’s an adult series, not YA—though the characters are more ‘new adult’ it’s definitely not YA, it’s geared toward the older reader. So I decided it was time to dust off my copy of The Ninth House and read it so I could read Hell Bent!


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. (summary from Goodreads)


This book started out boring, slow, pretentious, weird, confusing, and just plan strange. I had no idea what was going on. Things were confusing and not really explained well. But that wasn’t for lack of words. There were walls of text that felt more ‘high brow’ showmanship than useful world building. But I kept reading. Then things turned disturbing and bizarre. The uber strange bathroom field trip scene almost completely put me off to the story. But I kept reading. I promised myself I would put this one in the DNF pile if it didn’t start coming together by page 150. It was like Bardugo read my mind because by like page 145 things finally started to come together enough that I felt like I could keep reading. Why would I keep reading THAT many pages if I wasn’t enjoying it? Well Bardugo is such a well regarded author and I just couldn’t rationalize that this book has such a massive following across many different genres and readers, I couldn’t imagine that I would hate it. I have confidence in her writing and world building from The Grisha books, but honestly it was a struggle until things started picking up and making more sense basically half way through the book.

I was so relieved when things started picking up, and I was almost sad that I didn’t take some of the lengthy world building passages (as well as the random book entry prompts about Lethe House) more seriously! Up until about half way through, I was kind go skimming then it was like WHOA what is happening??? I was then hooked and couldn’t put it down. At its heart, this book is a murder mystery when you strip down all the weird ghosts, horror, and drugs. The drug parts were excessive but in a weird way really fitting for this story and todays modern and new adult reader audience. Once I felt more orientated with in the story I really got hooked on the murder mystery. I loved seeing how Alex’s brain worked to solve problems, examine evidence, and try to piece together potential suspects while trying to come to terms with who and what she is. I loved how much of a non conventional heroine she was. I didn’t necessarily like her to start with but she grew on me. I normally don’t like characters with substance abuse issues—-like at all—-but Bardugo managed to do the impossible—make me like her and cheer for her,

I don’t know that this book is really for everyone. You kind of need to like horror, dark academia, morally ambiguous characters, and just downright weirdness to like this book. Not to mention the thickness of the prose. It was A LOT to unpack and at times I struggled with it, but once I got into it, I was hooked. Initially if you had asked me what I would rate this book, I would have said 1 star DNF, but having stuck with it I can wholeheartedly say this book was a solid 4.5 stars. It grew on me and I couldn’t put it down once I got into it. It was rich in characters, moral issues, with a smart murder mystery that I loved trying to solve. I also love the Bridegroom storyline and how it came together with the modern one. This was an excellent read if you can get through the first 100+ pages. Needless to say, I am starting Hell Bent immediately!

Book Info and Rating

Format: 461 pages, Hardcover

Published: October 8, 2019 by Flatiron Books

ISBN 9781250313072 (ISBN10: 1250313074)

Review copy provided by personal collection. All opinions are my own and in no way influenced.

Rating: 4.5 star

Genre: horror, fantasy


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