Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Only at Yale is it possible to ward off malevolent ghosts by reciting Horace. Such is the premise of Leigh Bardugo’s newest novel, her first foray away from Ravka, the fantasy world she created in 2012. I consider myself a Bardugo superfan. I’ve written rave reviews of everything she’s written. But, because Ninth House was such a radical departure from her norm, I was a little nervous to pick it up. Luckily, excitement overpowered me because Bardugo’s writing coincided with my life in a way that was previously impossible: I am doing college visits this summer and Yale is on my list. So, with mixed feelings, I picked Ninth House up.

If there’s one thing Bardugo has mastered it’s setting. She attended Yale in the 1990’s and her time at the school is reflected through loving descriptions of everything from the library to the cafeteria line. My favorite aspect was her biting descriptions of secret societies, which, as I discovered after a Wikipedia wormhole, are all totally real. It’s also notable that Bardugo manages to shy away from any type of “wealth porn” unlike similar novels set at other prestigious institutions. Sure, there are vibrant descriptions of the dining hall’s priceless stained glass windows, but the racist scenes of plantation life the depict is highlighted, too. This step away from glorification made Bardugo’s descriptions both more vivid and likable.

Darlington liked to say that dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.

Another area where Bardugo shines is characters. Well, kinda. A main character with unheard of abilities plucked from poverty and placed inside hallowed halls. A seemingly perfect young boy trying to escape his immense privilege while simultaneously falling in love with the main character. A frenemy turned bestie with a heart of gold. There’s more, but I don’t want to spoil anything (maybe I’ll update this post after the book comes out because there’s a character I really want to talk about). Bardugo’s characters are fantastically three dimensional, but it doesn’t take a seasoned reader to realize they’re the exact same characters that starred in her earlier works. If you’ve read Ninth House, you’ve also read The Grisha Trilogy, only set in New Haven.

The one thing keeping me from raving about Ninth House is the plot. Usually, once I’m immersed in books I find them impossible to put down. But, towards the middle of the story, I set down Ninth House for a week and read two other books, Naomi Alderman’s The Power and Roshani Chokshi’s The Gilded Wolves. When I came back to the story, I was struck by the jumpy-ness of the plot, which was sometimes so confusing that I had to read sections over again for clarity. 

Ninth House centers around two mysteries which connect in perplexing ways. When reading a mystery novel, I love the feeling of clues making sense over the course of the novel and the larger picture slowing coming into focus. But, when reading Ninth House, I just could not put together any of the pieces until the primary antagonist clearly laid them out in a classic villain speech. Maybe the blame is on me for not being smart enough to put together the pieces. But it could just as easily fall to a plot that was too muddled to follow.

I’m very sad to say I liked Ninth House. It was enjoyable and at the very least, it made me really excited to tour Yale. But, I would hesitate to recommend it to any fan of The Grisha Trilogy or Six of Crows, because New Haven just doesn’t have the same magic as Ravka.

Ninth House comes out in October 2019.

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