Alex Stern has always had certain gifts. Although she never really saw it that way. M. Night Shyamalan would say that she sees dead people. It’s not a gift that Alex wanted or even one that she can cope with. She get’s in to a lot of trouble with a lot of bad people because she’s running so fast to get away from it.
Yale has secret societies, Something we’ve known from American TV dramas since as long as I can remember. Even Gilmore Girls did a plot line about it. Alex is given an invitation to change her life completely and for the better. She is asked to join Yale and join a society called Lethe, who are like HR for secret societies. Her job is to make sure that nothing gets out of hand and to use her ‘gifts’ to help with this.
Ninth House is a wonderful book. Being set in an American University it is able to cover so many topics we are all familiar with lately. The story covers misogynistic frat boys, the capitalist business that is further education, the gate keeping of knowledge for the one percent and how all of this leaves people broken on the road side trying to keep up. And that is all subplot for the actual narrative. The storyline is chilling, dark and very impressive.
Alex is a complete outsider in this world which is great because it means that the reader can see it all from the same outsider perspective they would have in this rich-kid-universe. She is very smart and even more aggressive which is a brilliant combination. When a girl is murdered on campus she refuses to accept the easy answer she’s given; especially when she knows what is capable in this town. With ghosts, rituals and magic, a crime of passion was bound to be more than it seemed.
Lethe House has a couple other people involved in protecting New Heaven from the societies; Darlington, who’s real name is Daniel Arlington, is always referred to as a gentleman and it’s easy to see why. Brought up by his grandfather, he has very specific views on societal behaviour and how a person must conduct themselves. Not the person you expect to see at a frat party playing beer pong or doing a kegstand. But he is passionate about the town he loves and inquisitive to a fault. The other person is Dawes, an introverted masters student who mostly sits on the sofa, with her headphones in, writing her dissertation. But boy does she come through when the shit hits the fan. She was a surprising stand out character for me while reading Ninth House.
On the other side of it, the main thing that I felt should have been edited more is the ending of the book. It felt as though Leigh Bardugo wasn’t sure how she wanted the story to end and just used all the endings she could think of. The book had been so interesting and I was so excited to find out who had done it and then the someone was finally accused, it was then someone else and someone else and then a side character did it somehow, then ended up being the person we thought it was anyway. It was confusing and felt like I was suddenly reading a game of Cluedo where everyone was just accusing everyone else.
This is a book that I would recommend to anyone, if they’re a horror fan, crime fan, teen drama fan, whatever. I don’t think anyone would not enjoy at least some aspects of what this book is. Think of it like How To Get Away With Murder, but spooky. Ninth House is a novel that I know I will re-read again and again. It is a shining example of good writing, great narrative and amazing understanding of how to write horror.