Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
I don’t think I’m alone in reading Ninth House because Leigh Bardugo broke my heart when she ended the Six of Crows series. Ninth House isn’t created to be compared to Six of Crows, but I’m going to do that anyway, because I am the worst. Spoiler alert: they are NOT the same.
The thing is, Leigh Bardugo has a real gift for crafting immersive worlds and lore, as well as making dark stories engaging. Because this is an adult novel, it makes sense to turn the lights down even further, make it even darker. But I think that’s where this book falters a lot in certain aspects, specifically the characters, pacing/suspense, and tone. This isn’t to say it doesn’t have its own kind of genius, but it’s important to address what makes this book so divisive.
First of all, I acknowledge that I have to be careful in a critique of Alex. She’s a character suffering from PTSD because of circumstances that I can’t imagine being in. And kudos to Bardugo, because it seems pretty clear how passionate she is about her portrayal of trauma survivors. But I don’t want to let myself shy away from critiquing the character because I haven’t gone through what Bardugo or the character has.
I honestly think Alex is lacking some of the complexity that traumatic experiences often create. Instead of fighting feelings of guilt, anxiety, or any of the other emotions that might spring from her troubled youth, she is just “relieved” to be capable of violence. And while I see what Bardugo is trying to validate, I think that it loses a lot of humanity. In some ways Alex even becomes unsettling. And I don’t think that’s unavoidable when writing people with trauma. Their personalities don’t become inherently unlikable. And I think that if Alex read like more than just a conglomeration of past awful experiences, it would make the emotions she does have on the page make more sense.
Secondly, the book’s pacing is…not great. It took me like 150 pages to get remotely interested in it. Withholding information was an attempt to create suspense and avoid exposition dumping, but it really backfired. Then, once the plot starts picking up, it jolts between lulls to ever-increasing danger very rhythmically. And I mean rhythmic as in the way moms rocks baby to sleep. I have to say that I was really invested about two-thirds through the book, so that’s something. But then right before the end, shocking information that means you MUST READ THE SEQUEL is added in a really confusing and hurried way.
Gosh, this review is becoming as dark as the book. Let’s move onto some positives, shall we?
As aforementioned, Bardugo is a wordbuilding queen. I don’t know how these ideas were triggered, but it honestly feels really natural, fun, and even believable. Like, I now have my eye on Yale. Something about Anderson Cooper peddling magic drugs is hilarious to me. The other thing is, it seems like she’s done a lot of research on lore, so I think her magical system is great as well.
The plot itself is also pretty fun. It honestly reads a lot more like a mystery than I was expecting, and I really loved where it ended up in the end. That being said, I felt like there were so many suspects at one point that it created a problem. I was confused and uninvested in all of them, and it kind of gave away who couldn’t be the real culprit.
Sorry, sorry! Back to positives! And you know what was the BEST PART of this ENTIRE BOOK? Darlington. Not that it was a hard guess. His motivations really bring him to life. And they’re fun. I like the angle that he just wants to be a hero and is not even gonna deny that complex that every male protagonist has anyway. I genuinely just like reading his behavior, because I genuinely just like him. So I’m a little annoyed that my ideal man got treated this way. Leigh Bardugo and I are gonna have a talk later.
All in all, if you’re a sucker for dark and gritty mysteries with a hint of the supernatural, this is literally that. Nailed it on the head. For what she was going for, I think she did a really good job. But…I don’t know if I like what she was going for. The tone is consistent and has that graveyard effect, but it isn’t necessarily enjoyable. And I think that that’s a real factor in a good book. To me, this book was crass in a few unnecessary ways and had a lot of negative energy for a large portion of the book. I closed the book having appreciated the plot and concept, but know that this is a book that isn’t for everyone.