Full disclosure: I’m not really a fan of fantasy fiction. When given the choice, I tend to go for moire realistic narratives or historical fiction.
That being said, The Ninth House, was an enjoyable read. Or listen, I guess, since I listened to the audiobook with Lauren Fortgang and Michael David Axtell.
The Ninth House begins mid-magical ceremony – a group of students who belong to one of the eight houses at Yale that all channel otherworldly forces for power, money, and success. Galaxy “Alex” Stern is at the ceremony as a representative of Lethe house – house responsible for supervising and policing the other houses’ use of magic, as well as for keeping away ghosts (or “grays “as they’re called in the book).
Alex had a tough upbringing in LA, driven mostly by her desire to run away from her ability to see “grays” and from their ability to attack her. She becomes an addict and she lives a more or less nomadic life with her friends. After a mysterious homicide involving her best friend, Alex is recruited for Lethe house at Yale for her ability to see and interact with “grays.” Under the tutelage of Daniel “Darlington” Arlington, she learns the ways of Lethe and the history of magic and supernatural events that have taken place in New Haven, Connecticut for centuries.
There are a lot of elements in The Ninth House, and partway through the book, I wondered how all of the aspects would be tied together. There are twists and turns and ghosts and magic and murder. I also thought it was going to be a pretty typical fish out of water story, but it turns out that it was a bit more than that. It still feels like it’s in the vein of some young adult fiction which focuses on an exceptional adolescent or young woman who doesn’t realize how amazing she is until some experience helps awaken the power within. (Twilight, The Hunger Games, every Disney princess). Alex’s exceptionally dark past sets her apart from many literary heroines of the 21st century.
One of the things this book captures very well is the sense of alienation and disbelief felt by students on college campuses who are first-generation college students or come from low-income backgrounds. Alex is in awe of the cafeteria where she can get food whenever she wants. She’s amazed by the various dorms and houses. She sees her surroundings for what they are, signs of incredible privilege, which her fellow Yale students take for granted. I remember feeling similarly disoriented when I went to a big fancy school, and Alex is definitely like many students I’ve met in the past.
The final thing that occurs to me is how clever it is to use magic as a metaphor for the privilege and power given to wealthy students as they make their ways through the Ivy League. In reality, it seems like these people are just standing on the shoulders of the previous generations and haven’t had to work very hard for the opportunities they’ve been given – or at least they don’t have to try as hard as others. The Ninth House ties that power to literal magical ceremonies that must be performed regularly so that the titans of industry who are alum can maintain their positions.