We are not too sure about the story but the kind of attention that Ninth House
by Leigh Bardugo
has been receiving has us seriously astounded. We are still trying to figure out how a book published at the end of October has been read by so many people and voted to be the winner of the Goodreads best fantasy book of 2019. We find this a bit dubious particularly since Winter of the Witch
by Katherine Arden
happens to be listed in the same category. The one possible explanation that we could come up with is that perhaps it is the Yale network that has worked in Bardugo’s favour, since the book is set in Yale and the author herself is from there. Also, legions of Bardugo’s YA readers, now old enough to read this, her first adult fantasy book, might have voted based on their fondness for her YA books.
The story centres around the magical and occult powers focused at New Haven and Yale. Nine secret societies, channelling different occult abilities, were set up more than a century ago at the University. The societies, or houses as they are known, have wide reaching influence since their members, after graduation, go on to positions of power and money. The ninth society or ninth house is Lethe which was set up to monitor the other houses and ensure that their rituals don’t get out of hand. Galaxy ‘Alex’ Stern is not the usual Yale student, considering she had dropped out of high school. She has been recruited by Lethe house because of her ability to see ghosts which abound in and around the Yale campus. She gets embroiled in the investigation of the murder of a ‘townie’ which leads her to uncover more dirty secrets of the houses and their members.
There is murder, mayhem, gruesome rituals, blood and gore, ghosts and demons. There is also a constant mention of the difference between the wealthy, entitled students and Alex who comes from a very different background. Ninth house has been touted as Leigh Bardugos first adult fantasy book and certainly has extremely unsavoury descriptions of sexual assaults, drug abuse, self harm etc, yet the author has not been able to break away completely from a YA style of writing. Most of the characters are in their late teens or early twenties. The story is set in a college campus after all. There is a lot of darkness to the book but being grimdark and making the reader uncomfortable is not the only thing which makes for an adult fantasy. We felt that a certain amount of emotional depth was perhaps lacking. The story is interesting and readable but at times it felt like a Buffy story but without the vampires.
Though we have said the story was interesting, the style of writing means it’s a bit of a slog. Not a ‘I can’t put it down’ book. More of a ‘I have to make myself finish it’ book.