Review: Hell Bent (Alex Stern #2) by Leigh Bardugo

When this book came out, it promoted me to go back and read Ninth House so I could be ready to read this one. I had this whole drama around why I didn’t read Ninth House until now and you can read all about it in my review of Ninth House here. Bottom line, I suspected that I wouldn’t be able to read this latest Leigh Bardugo book before reading the first book in the series and that is absolutely correct. Do not read this book without first reading Ninth House. This book is basically an extension of the first book and it will leave readers disorientated within this book if you read it out of order.

I burned through Ninth House and was eager to start this one immediately following since Ninth House ended on such a cliff hanger. So I cleared my reading schedule and hunkered in with this book, while I didn’t read it as fast as I anticipated, I still read it fairly quickly and found a lot of the things that I loved about Ninth House, still held true in this book. This book also ended on a cliff hanger and I hope we get the next Alex Stern’s book soon! It sounds like this book series is going to be a trilogy but I really hope it’s more than that. I think there is a rich world to mine here and I would be sad if it ended after only three books when there is so much more to unpack and learn about.

If you are thinking about diving into this world of strange dark academia but aren’t sure yet—-I would say go for it. While I had some issues with Alex as a main character in the first book, overall the rich world and strong storytelling made up for the fact that Alex was at times an unlikeable character—while at other times you could cheer for her. Bardugo is an incredibly talented writer so in that you can’t go wrong. I would recommend Ninth House and then immediately follow up with this latest novel to get the full experience!


Wealth. Power. Murder. Magic. Alex Stern is back and the Ivy League is going straight to hell in #1 New York Times bestselling author Leigh Bardugo’s Hell Bent.

Find a gateway to the underworld. Steal a soul out of hell. A simple plan, except people who make this particular journey rarely come back. But Galaxy “Alex” Stern is determined to break Darlington out of purgatory―even if it costs her a future at Lethe and at Yale.

Forbidden from attempting a rescue, Alex and Dawes can’t call on the Ninth House for help, so they assemble a team of dubious allies to save the gentleman of Lethe. Together, they will have to navigate a maze of arcane texts and bizarre artifacts to uncover the societies’ most closely guarded secrets, and break every rule doing it. But when faculty members begin to die off, Alex knows these aren’t just accidents. Something deadly is at work in New Haven, and if she is going to survive, she’ll have to reckon with the monsters of her past and a darkness built into the university’s very walls.

Thick with history and packed with Bardugo’s signature twists, Hell Bent brings to life an intricate world full of magic, violence, and all too real monsters. (summary from Goodreads)


If you have not read the Ninth House, I will try to keep this post relatively spoiler free. To be honest though, there is a lot of overlap in this book that comes from Ninth House so just be advised that this review might contain spoilers to Ninth House so if that’s an issue for you then stop reading. Read be warned and advised!

In this book we find Alex and her friends still reeling from the events of the previous book and trying to come to terms with the choices they had to make and who and what they are. They are also still trying to track down and recover their friend Darlington. With that recovery comes a whole other host of monsters and magic that they have to fight to over come as well as understand. I think this book did a very good job explaining how magic worked in their world and the struggles each of the characters still had to work through. The last book ended a little messy (not the story just the characters) and in this book we really see the full impact of book one so I thought that was a nice bridge. But for me this one moved a little more slowly than the first book.

This book spent a lot of time focusing on how to retrieve Darlington and a lot of theory and less action and character development than the previous book. I think the author sets us up to understand the characters and the choices of book one, but I was a little disappointed that we didn’t dive into that a little more and focus on more character development. There was so much more emphasis placed on explaining the magic that held Darlington and how to get him out that I think we missed an opportunity to get to know our characters a bit more. Also the sheer randomness of a naked Darlington and his exposed member seemed unnecessary and out of place!

I was also sad that they greys have become more of a weapon than their own characters. I really enjoyed the Barron from the first book and was sad that we didn’t get to know more of the grey characters beyond them being used by Alex to protect herself. Also the vampire part got a little weird and it will be interesting to see how that manifests itself in the future book/s. It was funny at times and I thought it helped break up the grueling length of this one (500 pages) but it also felt random—like did no one notice this or suspect?????

This book at times felt fast paced but then suddenly would slow to a crawl which is why I didn’t read it as fast as I was anticipating. I did feel every one of those 500+ pages at times. Ninth House read much faster and really built to a climax in a way that this book just didn’t. Often with the second book of a series, it becomes the filler or bridge book—the necessary book for the story to go forward. It wasn’t that it was bad it just felt like it was more of less stuck in the middle much like Darlington. A lot could have been done in those 500 pages to keep things moving forward and still interesting but we go slogged down with a lot of info about magic and purgatory. Overall this wasn’t a bad read just different from what I as expecting or hoping it to be. Although I am looking forward to the next book and hope we see more development in the next Alex Stern!

Book Info and Rating

Format 481 pages, Hardcover

Published January 10, 2023 by Flatiron BooksISBN

9781250313102 (ISBN10: 1250313104)

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

Rating: 3 stars

Genre: paranormal, horror


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