Ninth House- Leigh Bardugo Review

‘ ‘What have I been trying to tell you?’ Darlington said. ‘Nothing is ever just anything.’ And maybe he wanted her to be the kind of girl who dressed as Queen Mab, who loved words and had stars in her blood.’

Now I have made no secret in the past that I have not got on well with Leigh Bardugo’s books. Shadow and Bone irritated me and I have yet to even touch the remaining books in the Grisha trilogy. Granted, I have yet to read Six of Crows, but that was my experience with Bardugo so far. Thank god this book was what it was. Holy shit it’s perfect.

Alex Stern has gotten a second chance, she has been offered a place at Yale after a traumatic incident and a harder life. But there is a catch, Alex most join Lethe, the organisation tasked with monitoring the secret societies of Yale and keeping their rituals in check. When a girl from the inner city is found murdered on campus Alex is tasked with reporting on the homicide and what she discovers is something that could crumble Yale itself.

This book is obviously severely hyped this year and contains some very graphic content but it is honestly a refreshing work of dark fantasy. Bardugo is very much in her element here crafting this grim, disturbing view of New Haven and holding a mirror to the world of college education and the darker underbelly beneath it.

I have never had any interest in visiting Yale, not a single notion. Then as I did this review I discovered that Yale does in fact have 41 secret societies. And one of them in the book is completely real, with more maybe existing. I am literally shook, I know nothing about American colleges and their history and after reading this book I want to know more. I also know for a fact I am going to go down a rabbit hole of researching these societies.

We get a fantastic set of characters but most of all our anti heroic Galaxy Stern. (I too would probably shorten my name to Alex but that is a cool name.) Alex is so incredibly flawed and does things during the plot that even as you come to know her, you are still taken aback by it. I find characters like Alex intensely fascinating. I love anti heroes and morally grey characters so she was always going to be a treat to read. Her development, her very distressing past and her determination to prove herself at Yale all make her so great to read.

Darlington is also super interesting for the simple fact being we get so little time with him since most of the book is Alex’s POV but I loved having him on the page. He contrasts well with Alex and she definitely succeeds in taking this blue-blooded graduate down a peg or two. Darlington also has a cat and loves reading, I can always get behind a man like that. Also credit to Pammie. She is an introvert who makes soup. I love her.

Now we can’t avoid talking about the controversy of this book. I’m just gonna say that I love dark, adult books. I mostly read books that are written with adults in mind. Did this shock me in places? Yes. Am I going to stop reading Bardugo’s books in future? Hell no, this is way more my thing than anything she has written that is YA. Should you do some research beforehand just in case you are upset by any of the content? Maybe, just if you wanna be cautious. Honestly I don’t see why everyone is losing it, I think the author has been totally honest all along and there is no indication this is in any way suitable for younger readers. But that’s just me.

I really enjoyed the murder mystery style the story took in places but I think the plot came apart a little part at the end. The format it takes at the start with telling the story in reverse worked so well until where it caught up in the timeline. The plot is still fairly solid but this was the main issue I had.

My main favourites of this year have been controversial books and this one is no exception. I think that I have a taste that books like this appeal to, probably from my background in horror reading but honestly if you can handle the more shocking moments in this book I implore you to try it. If like me Bardugo’s YA stuff was not for you, then maybe this is your book too.

Mors vincit omnia.

★★★★/5

Book Chat: Changing Reading Tastes with Adult and YA Books

Good evening everyone. So to begin right away I feel like I should give a bit of background to explain why I chose to write this post. By the way before I do get started, I do still read certain YA books. I’m not throwing shade or criticising the genre, this is just a discussion of changing reading tastes.

I have always been a huge reader. I have always tended to read more sci fi and fantasy (SFF) but do also read a lot of comics, horror, literary fiction and non fiction. I even once read a slew of books on the Tudors (another day). However when I got my first paying job in college I started to obviously buy more books. The ratio of these tended to be 70:30 YA to adult.

I like everyone else, read all the vampire titles that flooded the market post Twilight. I then dipped my toes into the dystopian books that were post Hunger Games (and hated most of it after reading Ray Bradbury’s ‘Faranheit 451’). I did my time, we all did.

I had continued reading at this ratio and I didn’t notice any changes until last year, so about February 2018. I did two things, I bought a copy of ‘The Belles’ by Dhonelle Clayton and I started reading the first book in the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, ‘Shadow and Bone’.

Since I finished Shadow and Bone I’ll talk about that one first. One of the first things that I really didn’t love about this book is the emphasis on the romance and the characterisation. The book spends a good amount of time dissecting Alina’s feelings towards Mal. I have found that more recent YA fantasies do have more emphasis on romance which isn’t one of my favourite plot devices. But I had read YA with a strong romance before, why now had this changed?

I also mentioned the characters were another issue I discovered. Now I haven’t actually continued the series so I don’t know if this changes but I found Alina’s character to be very weak as well as Mal. Both are very one dimensional, especially Alina with an emphasis on her low self esteem. Characters like that are always good to see especially in the YA bracket but I felt the way it was portrayed through Alina came aross as whiny and selfish.

I have very few criticisms with The Belles just that the writing and characters again were not really for me. I have tried 3 times to read this book and each time I can’t get past the first few chapters. The difference I noted in the writing style is very hard to put into words but I knew right away this was definitely a YA book. This is when I definitely knew that my tastes had changed.

Another thing I saw my opinion changing about was YA series and how they played out. One such series I loved was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I legitmately inhale read the first book and was fully obsessed with the series to the point I bought the next book the following day. The second book in the series as pictured above was much slower than the first and in my opinion didn’t deliver on the suspense of the first. Granted, it was now revealed who was the antagonist, the twist revealed etc but I still think that the series continued to lag after that.

I found this to be something I noticed in other YA series as well. Now I see it in adult series too, second book syndrome is alive and well (talking about you Red Rising) but there is a distinct thread through many of the YA SFF series I have read having an issue maintaining momentum over a series. I’m currently making my way through Tamora Pierce’s works of Tortall and the publication timeline of these runs from the 1980’s to now. The most recent book being published in 2018. These books were YA before the term was even coined and used but I find that the content of these books, as well as books such as Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, have a better pace and a writing pace that is more to my tastes.

That is to say, I have not stopped reading YA, or buying it. A good chunk of the books on my TBR are YA. Some examples include Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan and Aurora Rising by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kauffman among so many more. I think it’s honestly the best thing I have learned about my reading tastes in years and its refreshing to know I can recognise this and grow as a reader.

I am now reading a ration of what is approximately 85:15, adult to YA. There was no book that drastically changed my opinion. I haven’t read all the hyped books such as A Court of Thorns and Roses or Simon vs the Homo-sapiens agenda either. This happened as a subtle change over a year or so. I honestly see nothing wrong with it since I think our reading tastes change over time naturally and to see this happen organically makes me think I could change my mind again and go back to reading mostly YA.

Do you think your reading tastes have changed over the years? If so what made you realise it had changed? I’d love to discuss this with you guys, thank you for reading.

Middlegame- Seanan McGuire Review

‘Someone made us. Someone made us, and then they separated us because we were dangerous when we were together.’

**Content warnings for self harm, suicide, torture and violence.**

Seanan McGuire has become a favourite author of mine in the last year. From her ever wonderful Wayward Children series to her other works like ‘Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day’ I’ve really fallen in love with her characters and storytelling. This book is no different and really blew me away.

‘Middlegame’ follows Rodger and Dodger. Rodger has a gift with words. Dodger has a gift for maths. Both of them are twins. Neither of them are normal. Neither of them are quite human either. Then we have James Reed, alchemist and creator of the twins and created by an alchemist himself. Reed has created Rodger and Dodger to manifest an ancient doctorine that will give them power over all of reality. Soon they will want that power for themselves. But will Reed allow it?

This book is written beautifully, but it is not an easy read. Not in terms of subject matter (though I do have warnings for certain content) but it’s a book that requires active concentration. This book has time lines and these time lines can be reset to readjust things that have gone wrong. The audio is fantastic and Amber Benson (Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer FYI) is a perfect choice to narrate the story.

The book happens pretty much in our world, taking place primarily between California (Dodger) and Massachusetts (Rodger). Dodger and Rodger are separated at birth and both are placed in adoptive families to try and force their powers to ‘manifest’ properly. However the pair always come back together. I do wish we had seen more of the Impossible City but that’s a small criticism.

The use of hyper world building is one of my favourite things about the book. Asphodel Baker, Reed’s creator, is an accomplished alchemist with a vast knowledge of how the Doctrine of Ethos can be personified. However, she is a woman in a time when men dominate science. So Baker, writing as A. Deborah Baker pens a childrens book, ‘Over the Woodward Wall’ about 2 characters called Avery and Zib setting out on Oz-esque adventure. The book is essentially a transcription of her ideas and passages of it are dotted throughout the story we read. I love this as a plot device in any form of fiction but particularly in one like this that has changing events through retcons of timelines it can be really helpful.

McGuire always writes wonderful, flawed characters with incredible depth. Rodger and Dodger are in no way similar and have significant growth as the story progresses. When the two first meet through what is essentially a psychic connection, Rodger is a far more timid creature and Dodger comes across as a stronger more stubborn personality. As we see the two grow we do come to realise that despite them being essentially super human, neither of them are perfect and both do have their issues in dealing with the world around them. Again I want to repeat my warning at the start, if you are upset by self harm or suicide then this book is not for you.

James Reed was a very interesting character. I love the book Frankenstein and I always did wonder what would have happened if the creature had gone on to live a full life. Reed is the villain of the tale but honestly he is another creation. Reed was created himself to carry on the work of Asphodel Baker after she died. He never questions what he is doing or why he is doing it but he is not exactly fighting his own nature. One character who was supposed to be a villain was Lee Barrow. But to me she was just annoying. Benson was a fantastic narrator for all the characters but she does a really odd voice for Lee which grated on my nerves. Lee is supposed to be the bloody, psychotic foil for Reed who doesn’t like getting his hands dirty but I honestly hated seeing her and she wasn’t half as unsettling as I wish she could have been.

Like I mentioned earlier this book has time lines. Several of them. Each chapter starts off by identifying what number timeline we are in as well as when and where we are. Seanan McGuire really shows her strength with keeping the plot so perfectly woven and moving at a pace that suits each situation. There was not a single moment where I was confused or lost with the changing time lines. The mechanics are really cool too because Dodger can reset the time line by returning ‘to the last fixed point’ but only if Rodger commands her to do so. Remarking ‘this is an adjuration, this is a command’ when they have to go back.

Honestly the fact this is a contemporary fantasy based on the central theme of alchemy is a refreshing take on both fantasy and science fiction. Seanan McGuire will never fail to astound me with her writing but now I am dying to read more books about alchemy. I really recommend the audio for this one if you’re going to give it a try.

★★★★.5/5