Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo: Raw, brooding, sensitive // Book Review

“Darlington liked to say that dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.”

My Goodreads:

Alex Stern has always been able to see ghosts. This ability has driven her to resort to drugs, abusive relationships, and even become implicated in a homicide by the age of twenty. However, when she is offered a full ride to Yale University in return for her commitment to its secret occult societies, Alex accepts in hopes for a fresh start.

This book explores Alex’s dark past as she attempts to start a new life at Yale, but when a murder mystery strikes on campus, she begins uncovering some truths.

***Trigger Warnings: Rape, Assault, Drug abuse, Murder, Gore

***Genres: Adult, Crime, Paranormal, Contemporary, Psychological

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This book sure doesn’t pull its punches.

There have been early complaints that this novel is too dark and distressing, but as I expected it to be so considering its genre, I was not too bothered by the triggering contents of this book. That said, I did not expect this book to be a full-on thriller crime novel, and that both was a boon and hindrance in my enjoyment of it.

Because to start, I generally am not fan of adult crime novels, and yet this book was a fresh experience for me regardless as I enjoyed being strung along in a murder mystery. The plot twists regarding the culprit are a tad predictable in my opinion, but that did not take away from the fun of stacking the evidence and analyzing them as I went.

Furthermore, Alex is a compelling protagonist. She harbors a troubled past due to her ability to see ghosts, yet she is able to compartmentalize and move on in hopes for a better life. I particularly appreciated her bond with other female characters, her quick wit and survival instincts, as well as her sense of humor: Alex is hardcore, but she does know when to quip and soften her temper in order to build relationships with others.

But ultimately, what won me over was the neat reiteration of the book’s themes in its climax. At times, the morals may feel ham-fisted, yet there are characters revealed later to have taken advantage of Alex’s desperation, and this ties in nicely to the message that those who come from a place of privilege often hold their power over others and abuse the fact that people without power are left unheard when in need of help.

In that, this book definitely has something to say! However, I do have a few nitpicks, one being the plot. It flips nicely between the past and present, but the first half of this story lacks focus as it diverts attention away from Alex and onto the POV of a certain male character. He is a compelling voice, but in retrospect feels like unnecessary baggage as he becomes irrelevant setup for the sequel and contributes rather little to the finale.

In a similar vein, this book has a slightly disorienting start. It is set at Yale, yet the crime and paranormal elements dominate to a point where it doesn’t feel like college anymore. Not to mention, the lack of normality to Alex’s life made the plot feel imbalanced as the book somewhat exposition-dumps you into the middle of her occult duties when it might’ve been better served to have eased us into her classes and social life first. 

That said, this book grew on me the more I  read it! I cannot totally gush about it as the exposition could’ve been snappier with less brooding and more breathing room for action, dialogue, and excitement, but the plot becomes increasingly compelling once you work out where it’s going, and I inhale-read the latter half in one go.


Recommended? Well, why not?

Again, I’m not a reliable critic as I’m not a fan of this genre (and thus have no gauge), but for what it’s worth, I enjoyed this book well enough. There are info-dumps at the start and the brooding is a tad reminiscent of the Grisha trilogy, but the characters have the personality and motives to make you feel for them, and that’s all I really needed.

So if you’re into psychological, paranormal, thrillers, or crime, this book may be for you! But do be warned, I would not be so quick to pick up this book just because you’re a fan of Leigh Bardugo: save for her smart prose and attention to detail, it has little in common with her earlier works (less coddling of its audience, more triggers), so know going in that this book will feel like it was written by someone else. For ages 17 and up!


Final thoughts: Grim yet hopeful

This is Leigh Bardugo’s foray from fantasy YA into contemporary adult, and I feel that contributed to a slight over-fantasization of a modern college setting when I would have preferred to have been eased into Alex’s normal life first (her classes, her bonding with peers), just to make the idea of a paranormal society at Yale feel more realistic.

That said, there’s a running theme about privilege that deeply parallels Alex’s own struggles, and I found its intention meaningful and thought-provoking. With an even bolder emphasis on plot next time, this series has potential to be great.

My rating: 3.5/5 frogs (3 personally, 4 technically)

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***Heads up, I didn’t give this book a full 4 stars since this genre isn’t my cup of tea, and so I came out neutral despite appreciating its themes (a.k.a. the main reason why I pushed my rating from 3 to 4 stars). More of Alex’s college life would’ve made the drudgery and  brooding more palatable, but I can’t take that as a negative as it’s totally subjective.

***On a final note, I’ve seen some people stirring up a fuss because this book has a brief scene where a ghost tries to rape Alex (and damn near succeeds) while she’s in middle school. Horrifying, yes, but as I don’t believe in policing content (and I don’t feel the scene was too gratuitous considering the book’s context), I got past it. Still, heads up.

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32 Comments

  1. I’m a little surprised reviewers would be concerned about the dark content. While I understand mentioning it in a review, I think that the summary does suggest that the book’s going to be dark. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to read it for that reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same, I saw some rant-ish discussions on Twitter, and I kind of rolled my eyes at them. Reality is, dark and horrible stuff happen to people irl, and if we’re not allowed to discuss them through books, we might be doing a disservice to them (given of course that the horrible stuff isn’t gratuitous or being included for shock factor). And I totally understand if readers want to avoid this book for those triggers, but to be actually irked by its inclusion…lol I don’t get it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Amazing review as always. I wasn’t interested in the book, I knew it wasn’t my genre and enjoying Bardugo’s other works wasn’t going to change my mind. Your review now has shown me the strengths of this piece, but I still know it’s not for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sha, I appreciate it! I think I had slightly unrealistic expectations going in at first (I thought it would be more college-oriented, but darker) but it truly is full-on adult with lots of graphic scenes. Definitely not one for people who are somewhat squeamish or prefer YA for its friendly content. 😉

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      1. I think expectations were hard to gauge for a lot of people, since Bardugo is so well known for writing YA and now she’s stepping into an adult novel. That’s always a big move to make, for both the author and for fans to figure out if the book will still match their tastes.

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        1. Exactly! I’ve seen Bardugo get just a bit flak for this since I think some people were expecting this to be slightly YA-ish with adult content, but nah…it’s adult. 😉

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  3. Wowsers! Sounds like an interesting read and this has been on my radar but hasn’t felt so pressing. I’ve only read The Language of Thorns from Leigh Bardugo (which I loved) and I’m hyped to read Six of Crows but I think I’ll do that and Crooked Kingdom before I take a foray into her adult debut!

    I’ll be intrigued to know if you’re going to read SJM’s adult debut Crescent City? They’re both debuting in adult category at the same time but I think the hype has been more for Ninth House from what I’ve seen!

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    1. I’d recommend doing that too! I find the Six of Crows duology is way more my genre/kind of plot (fun and dynamic), so I personally wouldn’t go around shoving Ninth House at anyone since it’s so different from Leigh’s other works. Also, I’m not the best at handling dark stuff, so there’s that. 😛

      Hahhh…big fat nope right there! I have no idea why I even finished the ToG or ACOTAR series in the first place, and I feel like a hater at this point just reading SJM to bash on her, so I’m staying away from Crescent City this time. I’m always up for giving authors a second chance, but I literally have no faith left in this author, so… 😂

      It’s really funny about the comparison btw. I only just liked this Instagram photo last week showing the difference in size between SJM and Bardugo’s signs at bookcon. I don’t know, I just found it hilarious. https://www.instagram.com/p/ByBSRz2oluK/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yes, I’ve seen that picture! I don’t know if SJM has the adult fantasy appeal if I’m honest. I think she’ll carry a lot of her fans over from YA to Crescent City but I don’t think she’ll gain that many new ones because I don’t think she’s quite got what it takes as a writer. I think Leigh Bardugo may well make the transition a lot more successfully! It’s a shame that you’re not going to read it, only because I think I would have lurved your snark!!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. lol I legit have a feeling she’s going adult so she can write even more raunchier sex scenes, and as you say, she doesn’t really have to worry about finding an audience since her YA readers will follow her to the ends of the earth, thus her (lack of) talent sadly won’t affect her sales. But to be fair, if she writes at least to the level of ACOMAF (the prose is actually pretty ok in that book?!), she might make it as an adult writer, though as usual, I’m pretty sure her usual instinct to resort to melodrama will be her downfall. 😂

          Hehe thanks btw! 😉 I personally would love to read Crescent City to expose more of SJM stupidity, but my excessive dislike for her is scaring me that my blog is becoming a hate blog, so I’ve decided to draw a line for myself. (Otherwise my SJM rants will NEVER cease!)

          Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m so jealous that you’ve been able to read this already! It definitely sounds dark and intense, but I think I’m emotionally prepared for that? (We’ll see.) I have really enjoyed Leigh Bardugo’s writing in the past, so hopefully I’ll enjoy this one as well! Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was lucky my friend got a copy so I could read it before she passed it on! Otherwise I’d never have ticked it off my TBR that fast lol.

      Yeah, I knew this wasn’t going to be my cup of tea before I read it (I don’t read crime, thriller, paranormal, dark or gritty, the list goes on), but I mean, come on, it’s Leigh Bardugo we’re talking about here. 😉 Definitely give it a go to see if you like it! And thank you! ❤

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  5. 1. Great cover!!
    2. Great review!! You have actually sold me on this and if I see it at the library I’ll read it. I still haven’t read anything by Bardugo (Six of Crows still on the tbr *sigh*), and I am intrigued that this is her first move into adult fiction.
    3. BUT … and this is a massive BUT … I’m definitely going to have a problem with the rape thing … which is the reason this book will have to come to me.
    Thank you for your thoughtful and even-handed review! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, I saw on your Insta that you have Six of Crows on your TBR! I’m rather excited for you; it’s not perfect, but that duology hits all right notes for me personally. It’s what made me a fan of Bardugo despite the fact that I’m not a fan of her other works lol.

      Aww, thank you very much! ❤ And of course, that makes total sense; I maaaay have understated the disturbing or downright icky parts of this book (some parts actually made me cringe or scrunch my nose), so if you're not into that (I don't really know how to describe what "that" is lol), I'd say proceed with caution.

      Again, thanks for being lovely! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I loved Bardugo’s Six of crows Duology and I was looking forward to reading this, and I don’t know the book sounds promising? I don’t really mind reading dark books either and I don’t remember reading anything from the adult crime genre. If Angels & Demons and Inferno by Dan Brown counts in that genre?
    I completely agree with what you say regarding the privileged people and people who are in power. They are ignorant and inconsiderate.
    And I think, more than anything, It’s Bardugo’s characters with their unique personalities that come out the most.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely, I think most people who enjoy adult crime novels will at the very least like it! I don’t know how to categorize it since I personally can’t see the appeal of the genre (I never fell in *love* with even the most popular/praised crime thriller novels, so I have absolutely no gauge for what’s good), but this book fits in really well with that crowd, so definitely give it a go! It has something meaningful to say, and I appreciate it for that alone. 😊

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  7. Oh I see now that we’re dealing with a completely different Bardugo here… I was expecting so, from all the reviews and the blurb itself, but I never knew it would be THIS shocking. I understand your reservations towards it, as they will probably mirror my own once I read this, but right now your post made me even MORE curious to try it! I don’t know why, I just feel like I’m about to dive into completely new territory and it sounds deliciously creepy *evil laughter*
    I have to say, though, I’m not thrilled about the heavier content in this as I’m a tad squeamish but hey, I’ll make the effort for the goddess of all goddesses – just hope I don’t faint midway through xD
    Amazing review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha for sure, you should judge it for yourself! This is definitely a new side to Bardugo in the sense that it’s not all fun and games anymore, and the mature elements are more graphic. But of course, it’s not graphic for the sake of graphic, so I think people who enjoy adult novels like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo would be at home here. 😊

      Btw yes, I must admit that this book did make me a bit squeamish myself! I mean, the gore, rape, drugs, and sexual violence are all obviously horrible to be sure, but it was a certain toilet scene that really did it for me; wow, that was downright gross, and it even made me sick in my stomach. 😂

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  8. I didn’t realize this book was going to have such a thriller/crime aspect to it either. That said, I’m still sup excited to read it! Honestly, I feel like a lot of the backlash is based mainly in the fact that Bardugo usually writes YA and so readers expected it to be like her YA stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely do recommend it! I’m not a crime/thriller gal myself, but I didn’t find anything I particularly disliked about it. 😉 It’s a shame that it is getting those reviews that try to censor it for its darker themes, because Leigh specifically did warn that this is most definitely NOT young adult lmao.

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  9. This is such an awesome review!! I was a little sceptical of this book, after how disappointed I was by King of Scars, but after reading this review I’m a lot more interested in reading Ninth House! Leigh Bardugo is a genius with writing though, so hopefully I’ll like it! I haven’t read much of this genre either… so let’s see how it goes😅

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But I don’t understand why people are ranting about the book for its content? I mean, it’s not like hiding the face that it is dark, so it’s it’s not someone’s cup of tea… they should maybe just avoid it instead of reading it and then criticising it??

      Liked by 1 person

      1. lol I know, right? To be fair though, I think that initial “outrage” has since died down; it was those very first readers who seemed miffed by how dark the book was (since they were pretty much the test audience, so they weren’t expecting it to get THAT dark haha), so I can understand to some extent. Hopefully they’ve changed their tunes a bit now the initial shock’s worn off! 😂

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    2. King of Scars…so I’ve heard it’s disappointing! I’m legit scared to read it, but I’ll probably just go in with low expectations. 😂 Fingers crossed!

      And for sure! I really enjoy Leigh’s writing style, so it’s kind of hard to be let down in any huge way, though it really depends on what you want out of this book. I’m not a fan of dark, so this wasn’t my cup of tea, but then, others who like grim stuff like it. 😉 Let me know how it goes for you!!

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  10. Awesome review, I can’t wait to read it, especially since murder mysteries are right up my alley. 😁 I’m a huge fan of Leigh Bardugo but I don’t get the whiner whining on a darker theme, it is an adult book after all. I think those are just the fangirls used to Bardugo writing YA fantasy, so they just wanted another “Bardugo” book and got disappointed because of a completely different style and theme. I personally love seeing authors experiment, and can’t wait to read this one. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes, I agree, I think initial reviewers were just caught off-guard by HOW different this book was in tone. But then, Six of Crows was a huge step up from the Grisha trilogy too, so it’s just a good indication of an author evolving. Whether it’s a hit or miss, I will always appreciate Bardugo for experimenting and trying to go in new directions each time! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yup, just as you say, a huge step up! I was truly impressed and instantly fell in love in Bardugo, because I read Grisha and Six of Crows one after another, so that change was very obvious! I love when a writer experiments and takes chances, playing it safe makes you a popular but dull author. :/ 🙂 I can’t wait to see what she’ll cook up next. ^__^

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  11. I actually like the sound of how dark it is- and obviously I know this isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I feel like we’ve been forewarned and told it’s adult anyway. Glad this was fun, even if it was predictable. Pity about the amount of exposition, but definitely still up for this. Brilliant review!

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  12. Fabulous review! I did enjoy the Six of Crows duology very much, and I, like many others, am a fan of Leigh Bardugo. Although you mentioned that you would recommend this for ages 17 and up (it is an adult book, after all😂), I am compelled to give it a go, as I like to think of myself as a mature reader… kind of. Anyway, by the sounds of it, this book is dark yet quite riveting, so I will definitely read it once it’s out. Thank you for selling me on this one!

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