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

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

A man will suffer misery to get to the bottom of truth, but he will not suffer boredom ‘

****TRIGGER WARNINGS FOR GORE, VIOLENCE, ASSAULT, RAPE, BLOODY, TORTURE AND EVERYTHING ELSE.****

This was one of my most anticipated books of 2019. It felt like it took forever for it to be here and I distinctly remember my boyfriend driving me in lashing rain and traffic so I could collect my copy from the bookshop. This book was INSANE.

Tracker is a hunter and he has a ‘nose’. People know him for it. This is how he finds himself tasked with the job of finding a boy whos been missing for three years and among a group of others with the same job. Among them is a witch, a goddess and a shape shifting leopard. What follows is a non linear story that mixes myth, magic and history as Trackers journey takes him across Africa from city to city as more questions arise. Who is this boy? Why are so many hostile creatures looking for him? And how has he been missing for so long?

Okay this was absolutely wild. I had very high expectations that were met and twisted into knots that very quickly became wtf moments. World building first, the world this takes place in is very violent. James sets the novel in an alternate Africa that is very similar to Africa in reality. It was very easy to picture locations and cities as the story moved so it wasn’t as heavy.

In terms of plot, as I already mentioned it is non linear and meanders a lot. The story is told by Tracker and he is often distracted from his own account to tell other stories. It is also heavily hinted that Tracker may not be entirely reliable as a narrator. Something that I didn’t exactly appreciate was how he described certain things and found NUMEROUS ways to compare them to genitalia? That was a bit bizzare. Now is the time to address the warnings at the start, this book is very graphic, violent and bloody. If you have any form of triggers, be careful with this book. James holds no punches in terms of detail and goes overboard at times describing some of the more horrible acts that Tracker performs on others or experiences himself.

The meandering plot was definitely more to my own taste. I don’t mind a slower book that can take a little longer to get there so long as it is worth it. It felt like a story you could get lost in given enough time and if you are a person who likes maps then this book may make you smile. And by the way? You’re gonna need them.

Finally the characters. Tracker as our protagonist is not the easiest to gel with. His character arc is very grim and very violent which leads him to become the angry morally grey man we come to know. Tracker also doesn’t appear to be heterosexual, having sexual and romantic relationships with men throughout the story. Leopard is definitely the more interesting of the pair, literally being a shape shifting leopard man but also just in terms of his own character arc and his relationship to tracker. Their relationship is very strained and is a confusing mess of deep love and intense anger. Leopard is also not particular about what gender his partners are, like Tracker, favouring men and this makes their relationship even harder to understand in places. One issue I have is the lack of women characters. It’s something I automatically noticed and couldn’t forget about as the story progressed. There are women characters such as the Sangoma, Bunshi and Sogolon but they are just kind of markers used to distinguish the different points of Tracker’s story. Not to mention how some of the women are painted with a very singular brush due to Trackers mistrust of all of them and his assumption they are all witches?

Something that does bother me is the USP people are using to recommend this book is pitting it as ‘African Game of Thrones’. Nope. No way is that even near to describing this book and it isn’t fair on both writer and reader to reduce the story to something that simple. This is a rich, rambling description of a fantasy story set in an Africa where Gods are as likely to kill you as your neighbour. Its a terrifying bloody ordeal told by a man we cannot trust but with whom we must stay until the story ends. And it is brilliant.

I keep asking myself, would I recommend this book? Yes and no. It’s already polarising enough because of the violent and graphic detail it uses to tell a story. But it is a great book for discussion and a really, really good set up for what is going to be a trilogy. I would recommend this for fans of American Gods in particular. To conclude, it is a wonderfully written account from an untrustworthy character in a world that will both shock and excite as the secret of the boy becomes even clearer.

★ ★ ★ ★/5