Book Review: Ninth House

Time to finally get caught up with the Sword & Laser picks with Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, the August pick.

As a content warning – in addition to this book discussing a murder, it also includes a discussion of sexual assault, including a character who is raped while drugged.

Ninth House is something of a hardboiled Urban Fantasy Noir. The novel is set in and around Yale University and focuses on Galaxy “Alex” Stern and the university’s secret societies. The main character is Galaxy Stern, a college student at Yale who has the ability to see and interact with ghosts, something that has caused no end of trauma in her past. However, that ability has led to her having been recruited to become part of Lethe, a secret society created to serve as a check on the activities of the other Secret Societies – activities that universally involve magic, with different houses having separate magical specialties.

Alex finds herself very much over her head, both in terms of academia and in her duties. This is aggravated when the murder of a local ends up involved with the secret societies, with the investigation potentially uncovering dark secrets from the university’s history – secrets that others would kill to keep covered up.

Naturally, this leads to the emotional baggage from conflict between the students of the university and the people from town – aggravated by the fact that considering that this is Yale, the students in question are a lot of truly privileged people – some of whom are very much among the 10%, if not the 1%. Whereas Alex, due to her background, comes from none of that privilege. This puts her in a position where she’s able to challenge the assumptions that others at the university are blind to.

The main mystery of the novel is really well written, and I appreciate how Alex’s background gives her an interesting sense of genre savvy – that (for example) if someone tries to kill you when you push on particular things in your investigation that means there’s something worth digging for, because there’s something worth killing to keep hidden.

The novel does end on something of a light sequel hook, but it otherwise is a really well-put-together mystery, and I’m definitely looking forward to picking up the sequel in the future.

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