As much as I adore the Grishaverse, it was nice to see Bardugo flex her writer muscles in something new. She certainly starts this book with a vivid sentence that seized me right away.
By the time Alex managed to get the blood out of her good wool coat, it was too warm to wear it.
Ninth House is gripping murder mystery, set in a version of our world where magic exists and is hoarded by the secret societies of Yale. Perhaps you’ve heard of the infamous Skull and Bones? In Bardugo’s version there are nine houses, originally eight but then a ninth house, Lethe, is added as an oversight to the power wielded by the others. Beyond supervision, Lethe has a specialty in dealing with the dead. In particular preventing interference from ghosts (grays) during magical rituals.
Initiates of Lethe (and all the houses) are typically culled from the elite of Yale students. Alex Stern, a drug using high school dropout, couldn’t be further from the mold. The only reason she is attending Yale, and has been admitted to the society, is due to her ability to see grays. Ordinarily a dangerous magical elixir is needed to even perceive them. Daniel Arlington (charmingly referred to as Darlington) is everything that Alex isn’t. He was supposed to be her mentor in this new world but mysterious circumstances have spirited him away. To mix metaphors, Alex is a fish out of water that has been tossed in the lions den.
The societies exist to use magic and bring more power to their members. Skull and Bones performs ritual auguries on living humans, examining their viscera to know stock market predictions to then be passed to graduated members of the society. The amount of privilege among the college student house members is staggering. While off putting at the best of times, it is particularly stomach churning with current events and the entitlement on display. If you are railing against system, now might not be the best time to pick up this book.
Ninth House comes together in a satisfying way as all the threads are gathered up. This is the first book in what is going to be a series and I look forward to where the story seems to be headed next. Something I particularly liked was Darlington’s interaction and description of magic, it resonated with thoughts I’ve had. There is a part of me that will never stop looking for the magic I hope is hidden in the world.
He would forget about it for weeks, sometimes months at a time, but he could never shake the thought that he was seeing only one world when there might be many, that there were lost places, maybe even lost people who might come to life for him if he just squinted hard enough or found the right magic words. Books, with their promises of enchanted doorways and secret places, only made it worse.
Alex smiled then, a small thing, a glimpse of the girl lurking inside her… 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.