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.
Ninth House takes place in a world just like our own, except for in this world, magic — used for both good and evil — is real. And the secret societies at Yale, and it’s famous and successful alumni, are the keepers of this magic and secrets. The eight secret (Skull & Bones, Scroll & Key, Manuscript, etc.) societies are overseen and policed by another group, Lethe, otherwise known as the ninth house. This is not Rory Gilmore’s Yale.
Alex Stern is not your typical Yale student — she never graduated high school, she’s been in and out of rehab for most of her teen years, and most of her friends are dead. But Alex can see ghosts — called “greys” and that makes her amazingly attractive to the powers- that-be at Lethe. Lethe offers her a place at Yale, and Alex drops everything (including her mom) in California to start her new life in New Haven.
With only the guidance of Darlington (a senior, tasked with training Alex about the intricate workings of Lethe and the rest of the houses) and Dawes (a grad student who manages the day-to-day operations at Lethe), Alex soon learns that magic is real, and darker than she ever imagined. And that maybe leaving all of the knowledge and secrets of the world’s dark magic to entitled rich kids who like to party isn’t the best idea in the world.
Alex suddenly finds herself mixed up in the murder of a local townie girl named Tara. The police assume it is simply a drug deal gone wrong, but Alex can’t shake the feeling that there might be more to it, and that the secret groups she has been tasked with overseeing are somehow behind it.
The story is told via multiple timelines: the current plot is interspersed with snippets of Alex’s life in California as well as her arrival at Yale and her training with Darlington. It starts near the end of the story, and I did re-read the prologue a few times as I neared the end of the book, making sure I didn’t miss any important details in the story.
This book consumed me. I honestly struggled with putting it down. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about reading it. And when I was reading it, I wanted more. I didn’t want it to end. (Until it did, and I was like, really? That’s the ending we’re going to go with? I could have done without the whole Daisy plot line, to be honest.)
Imagine my surprise when I realized that this was the first in a series! I has absolutely no idea. This is both great and terrible.
Its great because I really enjoyed 90% of this story (see my comment above about the ending). I loved the characters (even those who were completely abhorrent), and the setting, and the magical undertones. I loved the subtle digs at Yale and its ridiculous tow-towing to members of its secret societies. That JP Morgan made his money by manipulating the weather, which effected the commodities markets. That alumni like the Bush family and Stephen Schwarzman made their money thanks to the bloody rituals that were commonplace at Skull & Bones. I loved the inclusion of New Haven as a living and breathing entity. I freaking loved Dawes, and hope she looms even larger in the next book.
And yes, it’s also terrible. By the time the next book comes out, I will have forgotten everything about this one, and will struggle to keep up with the plot and the characters. This happened to me with the Red Rising books, the Ember in the Ashes series, and even with Strange the Dreamer and its sequel (or sequels? I don’t even know anymore.) My old brain can’t remember everything anymore. But I look forward to the next book, and any more that Bardugo wants to set in this fictional version of New Haven.