Design a site like this with
Get started

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (Alex Stern #1)

Author: Leigh Bardugo
Release date: 08 October 2019 (US); 01 October 2019 (UK)
Publisher:  Flatiron Books (US), Gollancz (UK)
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery, Thriller, Crime, Dark Academia
Goodreads: Here 

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.

This is a review honestly way long overdue (ONE YEAR! I mean, HOW LATE IS THAT ASFKJHGKL)

I had meant to publish this as soon as the book was released, but the sheer content of this book affected me to the point writing this review became hard; and university work piled on so this review’s writing was greatly delayed.

As a YA author foraying into Adult Fantasy, many may mistake Ninth House to be similar to her Grishaverse works. No graver mistake could have been made.

This book is dark.

Like, incredibly dark.


For context, I will provide some trigger warnings. If you feel squeamish and in any way uncomfortable reading things such as gore, graphic depictions of child rape, and date-rape – this book is NOT for you. I thought Book Twitter was exaggerating, I assure you that they are not.

If those don’t affect your decision to read, it’s incredibly important for readers to be in a mentally good place to read this book. The things depicted here will disturb and haunt you to your sleep. Not because of the traditional horror elements, but more because of how traumatic and close to unfortunate, real-life events this harrowing book is.

It takes guts to write about such traumatic and horrific experiences, so all the props to Leigh Bardugo.


Ninth House vehemently warns readers against messing with forces not quite understood (I did think this was the focus of the story, before a certain twist) – a message perfectly set within campus as the students are still young and at times reckless. It also reads as a warning not blindly follow authority figures, encouraging direct and transparent cooperation especially with potentially dangerous situations.

Bardugo shows that things go wrong, chances are everyone has at least some part of the blame. She could not have picked a better setting for this approach in the supernatural, as campus while a place to have fun is also a place to learn; and sometimes hard lessons need be learnt when people mess with the unknown (I would argue that the lessons are incredibly harsh, but I assume such is the norm in the supernatural when you know literally next to nothing about it while it can be a literal life or death, high-stakes situation).

Our protagonist Alex Stern is a woman from a very rough background, which is by no means her parents’ fault. It’s more or less what happened to her during those formative years that begin to wreck her life in a very horrific way. She possesses an ability to see what is not supposed to be seen (spoiler: the dead), but this is in no way a blessing. It’s a curse that kick starts the downward spiral of her life – and her peers horribly fail her in her attempts to cope (both ones that quickly abandon her and ones that do attempt to, with abysmal results).

Alex Stern, as we gradually discover, is the perfect protagonist to navigate this dangerous environment with her connection to the supernatural and how her experiences has formed her perspective on life; as well as a fresh, sobering lens to contrast the detached fascination, yet borderline obsessive view of magic her peers in Yale have. Through her eyes, Bardugo presents a chilling depiction of campus clubhouses (with its exclusive, dogmatic, and frankly cult-like nature) and toxic academia culture driven overdrive by the power their learned magic provides. Alex may not be the typical scholarly student Yale expects her to be, but she is incredibly privy to the more hypocritical parts of academia and the danger unsupervised campus clubhouse culture presents. Of course, she also ironically presents the more rational, detached, and cautious side of learning academia demands. Having seen some of the darkest the world has to offer, Alex takes no nonsense and calls things out like she sees. Experiencing Ninth House through her eyes has been a fascinating experience.

Concluding Thoughts

Leigh Bardugo’s first foray to adult fantasy and dark academia is not only a cautionary tale about messing with the supernatural, but is also a sobering exploration to campus culture, especially the social aspects of it (party, connections, etc.) where connections and status directly translate to power. Not only does Bardugo dive deep in to the most rotten core of unchecked privilege and toxic elitism, she takes the full plunge to the depths of the darkness within human soul, which not even our protagonist gets away from unscathed.


Shoutout to the Witchlanders (community of Susan Dennard fans), especially Sharon for organising an Advance Review Copy tour in which several Witchlanders and I were lucky enough to join in reading Ninth House early!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: