Alex Stern does not belong at Yale. When she awakes as the sole survivor of a multiple homicide, presumed a drug deal gone wrong, she is given an unlikely offer. Come to Yale, join the House of Lethe and oversee the rituals of the other eight houses, each one specialising in a magic that has kept generations of alumni in power.

The Houses of the Veil had too much power, and the rules they had put in place were really about controlling access to that power, not limiting the damage it could do.

Ninth House seems like the natural progression of Leigh Bardugo’s writing. Six of Crows was darker and more grown up than the Grisha trilogy, and this has gone one step further. Drug use and addiction has never been a stranger to her stories either. I liked the darkness of Ninth House. I put off reading it for almost a year as I’d seen how many people just didn’t like Alex Stern, but I feel they are harsh on a young woman who has suffered a great deal. Who would be a well adjusted human being after what she’s been though? She’s a survivor.

So I’m kicking myself for not reading it sooner, I loved it and I hope there will be more. Alex is one of the few people who can see ghosts, better known as grays. She didn’t know this growing up, seeing people no one else could see. Being assaulted by someone no one else can see… You can see why a traumatised Alex would turn away from her hippy mother and seek out drugs, which is where she is when Lethe finally find her.

With little formal education she struggles with her classes, she needs to at least appear to belong even with the help of the secret societies. Darlington, the current Dante of Lethe House is supposed to be her Virgil, her guide into the underworld of Yale but he is missing, sucked into a portal to who knows where. When called to the site of a homicide, she can’t just leave it be. That dead girl could so easily be her, so she ignores warnings from above and investiagtes further by herself.

But would it have mattered if she’d been someone else? If she’d been a social butterfly, they would have said she liked to drink away her pain. If she’d been a straight-A student, they would have said she’d been eaten alive by her perfectionism. There were always excuses for why girls died.

Transported to a place of privilege, Alex doesn’t become instantly happy or find a place where she belongs, it’s not one of those stories. That makes her begrudging friendships seem all the more valuable. She has reasons to be suspicious, but slowly she defrosts to a few individuals.

Part murder mystery, part a story of corrupt power, generational privilege and class divides, with a backdrop of sinister occult rituals and magical drugs. There are several instances of sexual assault in the story, but they are not casually thrown in. Drugs used to coerce and control are treated with horror, as they should be.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 23. A book that won an award in 2019

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