Oh, Ninth House. Delicious, dark, mysterious, murder-mystery-wrapped-in-a-low-fantasy-dark-academia Ninth House.
Fuckkkk….this is the kind of fantasy book that I YEARN to write. You ever read a book soooo good that you’re just like, ‘Yes, everytime I sit down to write, this is what I’m trying to do.’
Most of the readers who give a crap about the books I write are probably familiar with the saga that has been ‘Timestorms and Tourniquets.’ I wrote a 120k word book in three months. I had so much fun writing it. And then spent the next year attempting to rewrite it to fix the worldbuilding issues. And now after throwing out two entire rewrite drafts of between 80-100k words (literally, right into the trash), I got a wonderful review from Emily S. Hurricane, a writer that I greatly admire, and decided, you know what? I don’t need to fix a book that people already love.
Still, while I’ve decided to stick to minor revisions with Timestorms, there’s obviously something I wanted to do with the book that didn’t get done. I’m not as happy with it as I could be. The world isn’t lush and dark enough. The magic system isn’t detailed and layered enough. The tone isn’t compelling enough.
And when I read Ninth House, I had this overwhelming feeling of, “THIS is what I’m trying to do! This gorgeous mystery that unravels bit by bit!’
But the fact is, I’m not Leigh Bardugo. I’ll keep trying to write a fantasy this good. But I’m a long way off.
In the meantime, I’ll just sing her praises and tell you that Leigh Bardugo is the fantasy writer that I aspire to be. Minus the weird ghost rape scenes and shoehorned feminist talking points, but we’ll get there.
By the way, spoilers start now. If you don’t want them, just know that I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars and I can not wait for the sequel. Now go binge this book. Unless you need trigger warnings. In which case, this book has all the trigger warnings and is not for you. I mean, I hate the entire concept of trigger warnings and even I was kind of “triggered” by a graphic rape scene of a middle school girl…by a ghost. Not just child rape, but child rape perpetrated by a ghost. I’m all for edge, but Bardugo lost me a little there. Too edgy for me.
What I lurrvved!
The setting. High fantasy (fantasy set in a brand new world, like GOT, Stormlight Archive, WOT, or the wattpad hit The Unseen Hand) dominates the fantasy genre. I don’t like it. I don’t like learning a brand new world, new continents, new species, or if you’re flipping Brandon Sanderson even new freaking plant species! I know many consider Sanderson the absolute Goat and I’m trying to get more into his stuff, really I am. But every other paragraph the story stops to explain crap like rock polyps and spren and…gah! Just stick magic in the real world because reasons! Harry Potter that shit!
And that’s exactly what Bardugo has done. She took a real world place, Yale, and put magic there, because reasons. The worldbuilding is still impressive as hell and I loved learning all about how the different aspects of magic worked together or against each other. The nexus’s, the tombs built over them, the elixir that allows people to see ghosts, gluma, hellbeasts, magic potions…ah! I loved it. but I didn’t have to learn a whole new world to get that. Please, fantasy community, give low fantasy (sometimes I see it called contemporary fantasy) a fair shot! It’s so fun to see our own world twisted by magic. I don’t need to travel to Tar Valon. We can have magic and mystery right on the campus of Yale.
The characters. I’ll admit that Alex Stern does have a few moments where I felt she was a little too cool for school. When she intimidates other characters so easily and has such clever well-timed quips, it definitely reads as very Mary Sue-wish fulfillment to me. I could have done without that. Still, overall I really connected to her. Her tragic backstory made me sympathize with and root for her. I loved her relationship with Hellie. I loved that she was real and raw and made mistakes.
Then there was Darlington. Poverty inside of a mansion. I feel like there’s a metaphor there. Maybe a better blogger than I will find it. His motivations were so interesting. Preserving his family’s legacy was so important to him and I loved that.
Tripp and Turner were both super entertaining. Dawes was great.
The only character I have a real problem with is Blake. He’s a cardboard cutout of a feminist talking point.
As a recovering radical feminist myself (no lie-I used to lecture people on the evils of makeup and heels), I know how my next point will likely be interpreted by current feminists, but just know I’m not your enemy. I don’t hate feminists. I was one for the majority of my life. It’s just that I realized the feminist ideology is based on a tower of lies. Most anti-feminists (with the exception of ShoeonHead and a couple others) started out as feminist themselves. We were involved in the feminist ideology long enough to figure out it’s a load of bullshit. One such piece of BS is the myth of rape culture. Rape is horrible and rape happens. I’m not disputing that. But we don’t have a rape culture, and most frat-house rape scandals have turned out to be hoaxes perpetuated by the liberal media (if you had ever told me ten years ago those words would one day come out of my mouth…).
Anyway, that’s my issue with Blake and the frat house of rape subplot. It’s a shoehorned feminist talking point and one without much basis in reality. Look into it yourself if you don’t believe me. The statistics that “prove” rape culture were collected in dubious ways that no academic with integrity would ever get behind. Now that 1 in 5 statistic has been repeated so often that people accept it as gospel, without looking into how the data was collected, how they defined “rape”, or whether or not their sample size was large and diverse enough to prove anything.
Blake was annoying, a stereotype, a ham-fisted feminist talking point that the book would have been much better without, but the book was so strong that I was able to (mostly) look past this.
Lastly, I loved the incredibly unique premise. A murder mystery in a low fantasy setting is something that I’ve never seen. I can not wait for the sequel! I’m not even usually a murder mystery person, but the way the clues were revealed and the mystery became more and more complex; this is a book that tugs you in slowly and then all at once. The pacing and tension are sublime. I’ve seen some people say that the slow-burn style didn’t work for them. I felt it was delicious. Gorgeously done. The book couldn’t have worked without the slow burn pacing.
The only aspects of the book I didn’t care for were Blake and the frat house subplot, Alex being a little too cool at a few points (the ‘you can’t just!’ scene comes to mind), and the scene where Alex is raped by a ghost as a middle schooler on the day of her first period. I don’t enjoy seeing children brutalized. If the story needed that subplot then I could forgive it. However, the book would have been fine without that graphic, disturbing scene. She could have been a drug addict just because of how scary it is to be followed around by ghosts all the time. Also, it was never explained why that ghost was able to touch her. That plot hole bugged the fuck out of me.
In short, a few issues, but overall a very strong book. This is my first Leigh Bardugo book and she has surely gained a new fan. I’m off to check out the infamous Six of Crows series, while I wait for the Ninth House sequel.
How did you feel about Ninth House? Tell me in the comments! I’m always up for hearing some opposing viewpoints. Did you hate it? Tell me all about it! Did you love it? Let’s fangirl together. See ya!