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BookTok worth it or not: ‘Ninth House’

Boy oh boy do I have a book for you all this week! I’m back and I’m excited to share with you my thoughts on this book which has easily fallen into my top three reads of 2022. Here’s my deal: I like reading but am indecisive by nature. Instead of making a decision for myself I either wait until someone gives me a book or I choose a book that people hyped up on BookTok. I then read it and tell you whether it was worth the splurge of buying or not. This week’s review is “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo. 

“Ninth House” is Bardugo’s adult debut novel, but it is not her first book to blow up on BookTok. She is the author of “Shadow and Bone,” which Netflix adapted into a series in 2021. She is also the author of the “Six of Crows” duology, which is a part of the same universe as her “Shadow and Bone” trilogy called the Grishaverse. 

Bardugo has received a lot of praise for her young adult works “Shadow and Bone” and “Six of Crows,” but I’ve got to say while I was really excited to read “Six of Crows,” I’ve DNF-ed (Did Not Finish) it twice. I don’t understand why I can’t get through the book because it should be right up my alley. It’s actually a point of shame for me because I really want to love it but I wasn’t in love with Bardugo’s writing style. It’s also like a crime to say that you don’t like “Six of Crows,” so please don’t think terribly poorly of me. I don’t DNF often either, I do try to stick it out even if I’m really hating the book—cough, cough “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V.E. Schwab.

So was I skeptical when I picked up “Ninth House?” Yes. But it was $9.99 at Trident Bookstore and I couldn’t pass up that offer. The book wound up completely blowing my expectations out of the water and I could not put it down. I ended up reading the whole novel in a matter of two days. Now as a warning, this book contains a lot of triggers. It is a dark and heavy read, and it definitely isn’t for everyone, but it is just so well written and thought out that you are in awe of Bardugo’s genius. 

For starters let’s talk about Bardugo’s world building—something she has been praised for with the Grishaverse. I think she goes above and beyond in “Ninth House” because she is making something that is familiar unfamiliar. The story is set at Yale but we are following the lives of students in these secret, magic societies. The book manages to blend these concepts of reality that we understand in everyday life and mixes it with something more magical and beyond this world. 

The book dives into serious topics of privilege, power and influence. It also has so much going on that you’re never bored by the narrative. Right up until the end there is plot twist after plot twist. I mean seriously, it actually kinda reminded me of “Macbeth” when everyone just starts dying in the last five pages—not because all the characters die, but rather because you just have so much going on after having this huge build up over the course of the book. You kinda get whiplash with everything going on which can be a negative but I think that just made me more excited to read the second book, which is coming out in January!!

Our main character is Alex Stern, who after surviving an unsolved homicide against all odds is given another chance at Yale University. She is given this chance because of her ability to see ghosts—which the novel refers to as “greys”—and this has an important value to those in Lethe House—one of the secret magic societies of Yale. Typing this out it all sounds very bizarre, which is what makes it even more brilliant because everything makes sense when you read the story. 

While on a whole I think I really enjoyed the book, I do have some critiques with it. For starters, I personally really don’t like time jumps. This book takes place in different seasons: winter, last fall and early spring, and you bounce back and forth along these timelines. The only problem I have with this is that I am an impatient person and I want to know what happened in chronological order. That being said, while this isn’t my favorite method of storytelling I think Bardugo does a great job weaving this tale and incorporating the past and the present. Another problem I have is with Darlington and Alex’s relationship. Darlington is Alex’s mentor in Lethe House—the Virgil to her Dante. I obviously want them to be together because they’re cute and also I love Darlington even though his name is stupid (it’s a combination of his first name Daniel and his last name Arlington and a fun play on the fact that he is known as Yale’s gentleman). But there is a logical part to me where them being together literally makes no sense. Like I thought in the time jumps we would get a little bit more but all we got was like one night at a Halloween party. 

Then I also have some structural problems with how people are chosen to be in Lethe House. For starters, a big point of the novel is how they’re running short of people, but like they only take students every third year. Just increase your enrollment and that could solve a whole bunch of your problems. We also see in the book that the selection process to be in Lethe House requires the student to be incredibly smart—top of their class. That is why Alex—as a former drug addict—is out of left field. But then we find out that Darlington wasn’t top of his class either, so why do we have these two being chosen back-to-back while they are also not choosing anyone else to do these magic-y things. 

In spite of all of this I still really enjoyed the book and I was able to get past these flaws. Bardugo has some great quotes in this story too: “I let you die. To save myself, I let you die. That is the danger in keeping company with survivors.” I mean COME ON. That is just magnificent writing right there. 

Personally I think a big critique people seem to have with “Ninth House” is how much it varies from Bardugo’s other works. They’re expecting similar writing and themes to her other works that are—comparatively—not as heavy. But I admire this growth in writing; she isn’t writing for the same YA audience that her other works are geared toward. You can tell the energy that was put into this narrative to make it cohesive and I am genuinely really excited for the next book. Though I would like to point out that I thought this was a standalone book and did not realize it would be continued until I reached the last page. Which is one of my biggest pet peeves. Lucky for me, the sequel is coming out in like three months. 

I highly recommend this book, though I would recommend looking at the trigger warnings before reading since it does get into some pretty sensitive topics. But I personally think Bardugo outdid herself with this one. As of publishing, my top reads of 2022 are “The Immortalists” by Chloe Benjamin, “Anxious People” by Fredrick Backman and “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo. 

All very different books but all worth the read.

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