Ninth House (Alex Stern #1) by Leigh Bardugo

NinthOkay, Ninth House is a review that I’ve been struggling to put together which is why the delay in posting this.  Imagine all the words you might use to describe a book, brilliant, fun, compelling, exciting, enjoyable – to be honest, you really have to remove some of these words because they would feel totally inappropriate.  More appropriate words would be dark, macabre, sombre, cruel, brutal, harsh – you get the gist of where I’m going I’m sure.  Let me explain.

This is a book with a contemporary school setting, it includes a murder mystery that is really a sort of foil for everything else that’s actually taking place.  This is a book of magic, dark occult magic, of privileged youths abusing those weaker than themselves.  It’s a book of secret societies and ghosts and at it’s centre is a young woman, who has had a traumatic start to life.  This is not fun, it’s not enjoyable, it doesn’t pull ANY punches and Harry Potter it most certainly is not.  To be clear, this isn’t gratuitously violent but it contains many elements that will be uncomfortable for some people to read – it even made me squirm a little on one occasion.  Personally, I thought it was brilliant in so many respects.  It’s a book of survival without doubt, it’s highly creative and the writing is excellent.  However, I don’t want anybody to read this review and somehow get the wrong impression.  This is ADULT.  Forget what you’ve read by Bardugo before – THIS IS NOT THE SAME.  You have been warned, but a second warning can’t possibly hurt – this is not YA so don’t be fooled by the academic setting or the name of the author – if you’ve read this author before and loved her work – do not pick this up expecting the same tone.

Now you can see why the struggle.  Approximately 300 words just to give you a warning.

So, I’m not really going to elaborate on the plot because this review could easily become a thing of enormity.  I will just say that the MC is a young woman called Galaxy (or Alex) Stern, as the book starts Alex is a student, Freshman year, at Yale, she is one of their most unlikely students.  She dropped out of school at a young age and lived life on the periphery of society.  Eventually, things spiralled out of control and being the only survivor at the scene of a multiple murder was the final straw.  Things looked very bad for Alex until she was offered a second chance – a place at Yale in exchange for undertaking some mysterious duties.  I’m not going to tell you any more.

There are two elements to the story.  The disappearance of one of Alex’s fellow students (Darlington).  A young man who is part of the inner magical circle and was mentoring Alex with regard to her duties.  And the murder of a young woman, on campus – but seemingly unrelated to either magic or student life.

It’s difficult to immediately like Alex.  She is abrasive. Some of her actions are, let’s just say forthright, and she isn’t a shrinking violet – but she will grow on you.  Her outer shell is something that has developed as a result of years of ‘badness’ and isn’t easily cracked but as the story unfolds and you witness her experiences you will gain a better understanding of who she really is – frankly, she’s bloody awesome and I look forward to reading more books where she plays the key role.  There are of course other characters and they’ve very well drawn and easily imagined but Alex is my favourite in spite of herself.

In terms of the setting.  The majority of the book takes place in the academic setting but this also involves an underworld of secret societies each with their own agenda.  This is a modern day world where the majority of people are blissfully unaware of the magic that surrounds them.  A magic involving the occult and used by many powerful and successful people who have come to rely on the artificial boost it provides. There are monsters here.  Demons that lurk in the shadows and ghosts that can be hungry and vicious or simply sad.

The writing is the only element where I have slightly mixed feelings.  On the one hand I loved the writing.  I think it’s really evocative and highly atmospheric.  The descriptions are perfect and I was easily and fully immersed into this world.  I did have a small element of becoming a little irritated with the slightly over the top academic references that started to feel somewhat pretentious – but, on reflection, I think those references were necessary – if you don’t understand all of them, much like I didn’t, then maybe you’ll have a feel for how Alex felt, floundering around in an elite school system that she was only granted access to because of a rare talent she possessed that has caused her nothing but trouble all her young life.  Aside from this there is a slight pacing issue which really comes about as a result of the sheer weight of information, plot and world building that the reader has to take on.  You are pretty much thrown into this world and things are slowly revealed.  There are no huge info dumps which is a great relief. The information is relayed in an organic fashion that can leave you a little puzzled at first.  There are also flashbacks and a split time line so you really do need to pay very close attention to everything.

So, apart from a slightly weighty feel that means you have to slow your pace out of necessity, I didn’t have any other criticisms and really look forward to reading the next instalment which promises to be very different indeed.

I understand that the audio book for this was very good so I might even try the next in series in that format to compare the two.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, for which my thanks.  the above is my own opinion.

Rating 4.5 of 5 stars

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Posted On 5 October 2015

Filed under Book Reviews
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I loved this book. It’s an absolutely perfect combination of superb characters, dark world with intriguing magic and wonderfully clever and twisted plot. A winning package nicely wrapped up in this author’s lovely writing style with great dialogue topping the lot.

To cut a long story short, and if you want the speedy version, read this book. If you want to find out a little more and read some gushing then continue on.

Firstly, I haven’t read the previous trilogy by Bardugo and can firmly say that I don’t think it’s necessary to have done so in order to enjoy this story. I’ll also mention that not having read the first I have no idea if this review will contain spoilers so please be aware of that before reading on.

I won’t elaborate too much on the plot. We find ourselves in the busy city of Ketterdam and in particular focus on the Barrell where the seedy underworld thrives and gangs jostle for superiority. The Dregs are a gang ran by Kaz Brekker. He ultimately answers to a crime lord but in practice he has put the Dregs on the map, so to speak, and made them a force to be reckoned with. Known as Dirty Hands because he’ll take any job for a price, Kaz is about to be offered an obscene amount of money for a seemingly impossible task. This is a job that will test his wits to the full but if he manages to pull it off will make him wealthy beyond his dreams.

This story is a heist with a difference. The ultimate con job to obtain something that is being sought by many and could be disastrous in the wrong hands. It will involve a select number of people, all chosen for their own particular skill and all with their own individual motivations. It involves a gang putting themselves into a situation that any self respecting criminal would normally avoid like the plague and it’s set in the magical world of the Grisha.

In terms of the writing. Bardugo pulled me into the story and the world effortlessly. Her writing is really captivating and the world here is easy to envision. No clunky info dumps that pull you out of the story but a great combination of easy detail and flashbacks that slowly create a perfect understanding of the people and places visited. On top of this she manages to achieve that perfect mix of anticipation and fear that make you want to race forward at breakneck speed but also fear to do so at the same time. And, if that’s not enough to have you chomping at the bit this is a story with multiple points of view. This isn’t always easy to pull off and let’s face it can sometimes end up with characters that seem to morph into each other and become difficult to distinguish. No fears of that happening here. These characters all stand on their own two feet. They’re flawed, they come with intriguing back stories and, more importantly, they’re easy to like. Let’s face it, multiple povs is difficult to achieve because more often than not you end up with a favourite character and it’s irritating when you’re pulled away from that particular thread. With this story I liked all the characters and so the chapters were all compelling to read about.

To the gang themselves. A quick inventory. Kaz, the brains of the crew. Quick witted and ruthless. Inej, otherwise known as the wraith. A sad backstory with insight about how she manages to be so stealthy. Matthias, you could say is the brawn and also provides invaluable Intel on the Ice Court. Nina is a Grisha soldier. She practically oozes with confidence and sexuality. Jesper is the sharpshooter with hidden talents and, finally Wylan, he’s the mystery card, definitely the real misfit of the piece but his inclusion will eventually be revealed.

I love all these characters I have to admit. The way they interplay with each other. The banter and the different relationships that eventually become intricate to the story.  Okay,  if I was pushed I would have to say that I love the storyline between Nina and Matthias

Basically, I loved this book. It has everything I want to read. It’s clever, fast paced and totally gripping. Magic, in fact super, drug enhanced magic, adventure, twists and turns and seemingly impossible obstacles to overcome, a light touch of romance that just sweetens the plot and adds to the gang dynamics and a finale that will leave you clutching the book with white knuckles and bemoaning the fact that it’s all come to an end too quickly. When is the next book? Enquiring and needy minds want to know.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.