Having read almost everything Leigh Bardugo wrote, I wanted to start 2022 reading her adult debut with her fantasy Ninth House. Not knowing what to expect other than magic and Ms. Bardugo’s excellent writing style, I discovered a unique story of loss and mystery. It took me a bit to get into Alex’s story, but I could not put it down once I did.
With its focus on the ultra-secret societies at Yale, all I could think of is the movie The Skulls. It was the first time I had ever heard of the Skulls and Bones, and I certainly did not know that there were other secret societies. Knowing the privilege members of these societies already face, let alone the perks and future benefits they obtain by their membership, the whole thing made me a little sick. And that was before I learned about the magic they practice in Ms. Bardugo’s world.
Alex has had a horrible life and is just looking to find a fresh start. She thinks she obtains this by being one of those chosen to monitor the eight secret societies at Yale. Except a girl from the streets has a lot to learn about Yale, living the sober life, and the magic that surrounds her. The thing is, no matter what she faces or what happened in her past, you can’t help but love Alex a little. She is a survivor with the guts to face harsh truths and the determination to seek wrongs righted. Every beating she takes and every odd she overcomes only makes you love her a little bit more.
Ninth House is a story about the privileged and the misfits. In this world, the misfits oversee the privileged, which leads to a natural power struggle. At no point in time, though, do you ever find the privileged sympathetic or likable. After all, they are the one-percenters. The misfits, however, are endearing in their quirks and awkwardness. I particularly adore Dawes, who is a lot more formidable than you initially expected.
What surprises me the most about Ninth House is that if you took away the magic, which is as macabre as it is impressive, the story would still be good. At its core, it is a murder mystery, and Alex is a junior detective who reluctantly takes the case. There are also elements of it being Alex’s coming of age story as she learns to accept who she is and the experiences that molded her. With the academic backdrop, Ninth House has the right blend of secrecy and ego, topped with the hedonism that comes with any college lifestyle. The magic Ms. Bardugo adds is simply icing on the cake.