NINTH HOUSE / AUTHOR: LEIGH BARDUGO / PUBLISHER: FLATIRON BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: 8TH OCTOBER
Best-selling YA author Leigh Bardugo makes her adult debut in Ninth House. Set at Yale University, the novel follows the institution’s most unlikely student - Galaxy “Alex” Stern, a former high school dropout and drug addict. The thing is, she can see “greys” (ghosts), a skill that comes in handy for Lethe College, the eponymous ninth house that oversees the “Ancient Eight” societies of Yale, which dabble in all forms of the occult.
To be clear, Harry Potter for uni students this is not. Those familiar with Bardugo’s Grishaverse might be surprised by the real-world darkness the author brings to Ninth House. As a Yale graduate herself, you can sense her affection for the place, but she doesn’t shy away from criticising the establishment. This is less about the wonder of magic and more about uncovering the unearthly truth of how society’s elite gained their wealth and power. In that, the tale is as timely as can be, as it can be read as something of an indictment of rich white privilege from misogynistic jocks to those who abuse their positions of authority.
The world-building and plotting are exemplary, and Bardugo’s prose is second to none, but readers might be most taken with the novel’s heroine. Alex is an engagingly complex character, suffering from a whole heap of trauma and possessed of an inner steel that makes her scarier than the ghosts who haunt her. Put together with Darlington, her old-fashioned, gentlemanly mentor, Alex forms half of a winning “odd couple” double act.
Ninth House goes to some very dark places - about as dark as you can go - which may turn some readers away. It also takes some time to grip you due to the weight of the mythology it has to set up and the book’s arguably over-long page count. However, those who find themselves hooked will experience a surprising and powerful exploration of surviving abuse and reclaiming one’s life. Like the best supernatural fantasy, Ninth House is most interested in shining a light on our own inner demons and the ghosts from our pasts.