September Book Club: Ninth House
Ninth House is Leigh Bardugo’s first offering for adults, already having found success with her Grisha Trilogy and Six of Crows novels. Already impressed by Bardugo’s fluent, pretty writing style and her startling imagery, I was excited to try her first adult novel. Set in the present day, it is full of the magic, supernatural elements and smoke and mirrors that her previous novels are known for.
Ninth House is set at the prestigious university Yale, where mysterious Alex Stern has been given a full scholarship despite having little interest in her education. Her background is shady, involving drug-dealer boyfriends, terrible jobs and something much more sinister. For the first part of the novel, it’s a mystery to all involved why Alex has been offered a place at Yale. When she arrives in New Haven, she is given the task of monitoring Yale’s secret societies, all of which dabble in the occult and are the reason so many of the world’s rich and powerful, from politicians to Hollywood to actors, have been able to rise to power. But as the story goes on, we realise that there is a much darker heart to these magical societies.
As with Bardugo’s other novels, the characters are what sing in this book. She is particularly good at capturing the humour and unexpected sweetness of unlikely pairings - friends or lovers that would never get along if it weren’t for extraordinary circumstances. Alex the protagonist is spiky and angry, Daniel her mentor is faultlessly polite and proper, Dawes their friend is very shy and unassuming. Some of the best moments in the novel are seeing these clashes of personality, and the banter that can come from them.
Though the magic is of course very present throughout the novel, it is also grounded in issues that give you reason to stop and think. The issue of inherent classism present in top universities is something Alex is forced to think about often, as well as the effect universities have on the towns around them - they become ghost towns, the people that live there secondary to the famous university on their doorstep. Arguably the power of these magical societies propelling certain individuals to places of great influence in society is a wider metaphor for the networks people build up in prestigious universities - ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’
Overall this is a multi-layered, interesting novel which demands concentration and deeper thought. It is the first novel in a new series, so definitely does not end with all the strands tied together. Anyone interested in magical realism, or just the shadowy underworld of the world’s top universities would definitely enjoy it.
We loved reading this novel this month and are so excited to discuss it with you- please tell us what you thought via social media or by commenting on this post!