BOOK REVIEW: Ninth House (Alex Stern #1) by Leigh Bardugo

BOOK REVIEW: Ninth House (Alex Stern #1) by Leigh BardugoNinth House (Alex Stern #1)
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Synopsis:

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

 

What do you want? Belbalm had asked her. Safety, comfort, to feel unafraid. I want to live to grow old, Alex thought as she pulled the curtains closed. I want to sit on my porch and drink foul-smelling tea and yell at passersby. I want to survive this world that keeps trying to destroy me.






The way that I want to scream from the mountains and make this a total fangirl review…the urge is strong. Logic is flawed. And-I have to admit it-it’s all because I chose to believe a bunch of reviews from people I don’t even know instead of trusting in the author I’ve loved since the beginning of the Grishaverse. Shame on me.

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.





I’ll admit that it’s daunting when an author you know and love changes their genre completely-and in such a macabre fashion. Bardugo didn’t just go from YA Fantasy to Adult Fantasy…she went full on YA Fantasy to Adult Dark Academia. Quite a jump, and a jump I wasn’t quite ready to make when it was first released.

The resemblance was superficial, at least on the outside. But underneath? In the cut-open places, they were all the same. Girls like Hellie, girls like Alex, girls like this one, had to keep running or eventually trouble caught up. This girl just hadn’t run fast enough.





I can also admit there are key words when reading reviews that ignite that trigger response and I latched onto those with my whole being. What I failed to realize though, was I needed to read between the lines/investigate a little further to see whether those triggers would effect me. Everyone’s threshold of tolerance differs and what we can endure is in the eyes and heart of the reader. One similar scene may bother me more in another book simply because of what surrounds it or what the parameters are of the story, where another book may have an even worse similar scene, but everything surrounding it supports it, enhances it, creates a tension that just works and makes it bearable whereas the other just simply didn’t. It’s the smallest things that may set someone off (me), when before the same exact thing didn’t bother me. I can’t explain it other than I’m an emotional reader: I’m pure. I don’t have set stereotypes of triggers and how they are used other than two key triggers that are NEVER okay and I cannot tolerate: Babies (and young children) and animals. Those are it-the rest, things may bother me on a visceral level, but I couldn’t tell you from one book the next how it will effect me. That’s just how I am, I suppose.

“Thank you.” Alex winked. “Now we can be friends again.”
“Psycho.”
“So I hear,” said Alex.





All that being said-What I mean is that while this book triggered many people, it did not trigger myself. There were key things that at some time may have at some point in my life…but I guess I pictured this book to be so grotesque before reading that nothing I read was really going to phase me. Ah the power of trusting reviews. Either way, it seems that there was a certain line drawn in the sand that divided people between loving and not loving the book, and I’ll mention it here: ***I cannot get this spoiler in so will add later when I know how***. I believe this scene-paired with the fact that some people do not like change by their favorite authors (or mistakenly believing this to be YA when it’s, in fact, Adult)-is the main divider of derision/enjoyment. I personally just found one other scene to be far more disturbing-but that’s taste (omfg, taste. GAG. You’ll see. Unfortunately). OR, ya know, someone just may not enjoy it. There’s always that-which, okay, fair.

We are the shepherds.





I don’t know what I expected when I pictured this book, but I suppose I just never cared enough to realize it’s a form of dark academia, one of my favorite genres to read when done correctly. I think I always pictured some adult woman doing PI work and hanging out around a campus…fuck if I know why I thought that but…wow. The reality was so much better than that. And I guess this is a good instance of seeing why it’s nice to go in blind sometimes. I was blown away and that does not happen often to me when I am going into a darker book. Though, to me, this really wasn’t as dark as many of the books I’ve read in the last few years.

“Not at all. Demons are ambidextrous.”
“Do we ever have to fight demons?”
“Absolutely not. Demons are confined to some kind of hellscape behind the Veil, and the ones that do manage to push through are far above our pay grade.”
“What pay grade?”
“Precisely.”



And, okay, let’s cut to the damn chase: Darlington. Daniel Arlington. My newest love. How delightful. I just…I am trash for him. I love his haughtiness. I love his gentle snark. I love the way his derision never gets in the way [of always, always doing the right thing] of how he trains and guides Alex (well…mostly). I love that, above all, he lives up to his name as the Gentleman of Lethe and would never-under ANY circumstance-let any harm befall Alex (or anyone in danger in his radius, really) no matter his qualms or mistrust. He just…is the epitome of a ‘good guy’ without the bore or mundaneness. In fact, his scenes are anything but mundane, and I found myself speeding up when I knew he was going to be in the next scene. My most helpful piece of advice? Savor him. Savor his moments. Lock them up and read them slowly, stash them in the deepest crevices of your mind and throw away the key. You’ll thank you me later, if you’re a fan of him at all.

That was what magic did. It revealed the heart of who you’d been before life took away your belief in the possible. It gave back the world all lonely children longed for. That was what Lethe had done for him. Maybe it could do that for Alex as well.





What got me most, though, was the way they were together, the way they worked together. It just…got me. And, again, I’m not ashamed to admit that I didn’t know what I was reading so all of this was just such a delightful surprise. I can’t go on anymore lest I spoil things, but just know…he has my whole heart for my whole life.

She took out her phone. There was a message from the detective. Working a case. Stay put. Will call when I’m done. DON’T DO ANYTHING STUPID.
“It’s like he doesn’t even know me.”



Alex…she was rough, but I loved her. I loved her attitude. Her tenacity. The way she couldn’t give up even though she should have for her own self-preservation. Her mix of tough/desire to be liked and loved touched my heart. I am a sucker for heroines that have a darkness to them, that can push past that darkness at any point, but have a deep softness and willingness to be accepted and loved. A fierceness to them that never lets them give up, to fight through any and all pain to do what’s right even as they were always treated poorly and without sympathy



-that paired with Darlington’s moral compass, I was dead. I loved it so much. All that, and her relatability. Her inner snark, her quips in response to literally everyone. I felt so much kinship in those moments because, even if I don’t say something, best believe I’m thinking it and I just loved her dialogue.

Colin’s enthusiasm always seemed genuine, but sometimes its sheer wattage made her want to do something abruptly violent like put a pencil through his palm.


#relatable

And, finally, the atmosphere. Again, not near as dark as I had anticipated, but there were moments of such levity that I did feel submerged in darkness. There is up and down, yin and yang, and that’s probably my favorite sort of story. I love a good ‘darker’ ya fantasy because I think they are rarer, but I do like some light moments sprinkled between-that is the case here. That’s not to say there is any lack of battering, bone-crunching, or all out gore, because there is, [PLENTLY]. But I didn’t feel weighed down by it, and perhaps that was my largest fear.

The drug was telling her brain that everything was okay, that anything was possible, that if she willed it, she could heal herself right now. But the pain was shrieking panic, banging on her awareness, a fist against glass. She could feel a splinter starting, her sanity like a windshield that wasn’t meant to break. She’d been called crazy countless times, had sometimes believed it, but this was the first time she’d felt insane.



So all in all this book jumped to an absolute favorite out of nowhere. I shouldn’t have been surprised though, as Leigh Bardugo really doesn’t release mediocrity-it’s just not her thing. So, even though this was off my radar due to the gruesome nature, once I FINALLY heard a release for book two, I was all in immediately (inexplicably), even after telling myself I’d never read it. And, I’ll admit it, I’m a whore for good book art and I saw a print of Darlington and Alex that spoke to me, that made my heart pitter patter, and that’s what really led me here. I’m not ashamed to admit that I owe this new absolute favorite to that piece of art. Isn’t it beautiful tgat the extension of our artistic expression can change a person’s perspective on something they believed to be vile and not something they’d give a second glance to? It’s beautiful to me-and amazing-that someone’s renderings of their deepest personal manifestation can help me to visualize what I couldn’t fathom before. How far we’ve come, Bookish Friends. And whether it be the atmosphere, the characters, or the utter surprise of the depth of this story, I am trash for it, and I will be eagerly awaiting in the shadows for book two to release before I emerge.


FRIEND SCALE:

Arielle-I’ve drug pushed you into it so it’s already too late for your soul. lol
Cassie-You’ve read it.
Jen-NO lol
Anna-Frankly I could see you being either way. I sure hope Darlington brings you the joy he brought me.




******

I am simply trash for Darlington



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2 Comments

  1. Esther @Bite

    I’m really curious about this book, because of all the reviews I’ve seen for it.
    You’ve made me more and more curious with this review!
    Esther @Bite recently posted…Review: Malibu RisingMy Profile

    • Chelsea (Peril Please)

      Aw yay!!!!! I didn’t get this alert, I’m so sorry! But YES-I was against it and now I am so mad at myself because it’s nothing short of AMAZING.

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