Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

I read and loved the Six of Crows duology (reviewed here and here) last year, and I was curious about Leigh Bardugo’s first adult novel set outside of her Grishaverse series. Ninth House is about the eight most powerful secret societies at Yale and how each one specialises in a different type of arcana. Into this world of wealth, privilege and the occult, comes high school drop out and stoner Alex Stern who is admitted for one single reason: she can see ghosts. Alex is invited to join the Ninth House which oversees the rituals of all the other houses. Haunted by both the ghosts she can see on campus but also the mysteries of her past as the sole survivor of a gruesome multiple homicide, she finds herself investigating the murder of a girl on campus and unravelling a more sinister conspiracy in the process.

The narrative switches between Alex and her mentor, Darlington, which was a little confusing at first because Darlington’s narrative is all set in the past while Alex’s runs from the past to the present. This is incredibly well plotted and there are several different mysteries running through the story, the murder on campus, her mentor’s disappearence, the night Alex survived a multiple homicide that she has no memory of, and another related to one of the ghosts haunting New Haven that Alex accidentally befriends, yet the story has a very clever resolution and still sets itself up for a sequel too.

I loved the setting, the descriptions of Yale and New Haven, and the awkward juxtaposition of student life and frat parties with ghosts (or grays as they’re called in the story) and the occult practices of the secret societies. I also adored the characters from Alex who is just trying to survive and make the best of the second chance she’s been given, Darlington the gentleman scholar, and Dawes, the reticent PhD student who works as the Ninth House’s housekeeper to Turner the straight laced detective who is Yale’s liaison with the local police department and the ghost of a local murderer who wants to clear his own name.

I enjoyed Ninth House so much that I tracked down a second copy in hardbook to survive rereads and because I will definitely be buying the second part in the series in hardback as soon as it comes out rather than waiting for the paperback like I normally do. Ninth House was thrilling, original, addictive and delightfully macabre, it’s a story to keep you up reading late into the night but one that might give you a few nightmares too, and a perfect read for Halloween or a dark and stormy night. Have a lovely week. X

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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It feels very much like we’re living in a dystopian novel at the moment, like many others I’ve been staying at home, worrying about family and glued to the news over the last week, yet at times it’s been necessary and calming to retreat from our strange, new reality into fiction.

Crooked Kingdom starts just after the events of Six of Crows (reviewed here); betrayed by the merchant Van Eck who hired them for the seemingly impossible prison break in the first book, the Crows are seeking vengeance while Van Eck attempts to eliminate them.

I have such a soft spot for rogues and underdogs who refuse to give up no matter how impossible it seems, and I loved seeing how this band of misfits fought back when Kaz’s carefully laid plans fell apart. What makes this duology so compulsive is that time after time the Crows are outwitted, ambushed and betrayed, yet somehow they always drag themselves out of it and refuse to give up. Although magic exists in the Grishaverse, I also really appreciated that most of the characters rely on a combination of skill and cunning rather than superpowers.

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The romantic subplots are a little bit neat in that all six of the main characters pair off, though not everyone gets their happily ever after. Kaz and Inej in particular have become some of my favourite characters, and I was fascinated watching them circle each other warily, trying to bridge the distance across their personal traumas.

Crooked Kingdom contains the same blend of humour, action, twists and romance as Six of Crows, but I enjoyed the second book even more than the first. When reality seems stranger than fiction, I’m grateful to have stories as absorbing as this to escape into. Hoping everyone is safe and well. X

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows

Although I read a lot of fantasy, I’ve outgrown most of the stories about dragons, dwarves and elves, but one aspect that continues to draw me in is ordinary characters who find themselves caught up in epic events and I have a particular soft-spot for rogues and underdogs. Six of Crows kept getting recommended to me based on other books I’ve enjoyed and I regret waiting so long to read it because it was exactly the type of character driven fantasy adventure that I love.

Six of Crows follows a group of teenage thieves, misfits, orphans and runaways lead by the criminal prodigy, Kaz Brekker. Kaz and his handpicked team are hired by the merchant Jan Van Eck for a high risk, high reward heist: break into an impenetrable military stronghold to rescue a hostage – preventing chaos and war in the process.

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For a young adult novel, this was a little darker than I expected containing descriptions of torture and references to sexual exploitation, but it also ticks all the boxes for diversity with a cast made of different races as well as LGBTQ and disabled characters.

Six of Crows contains plenty of unexpected twists, action and suspense, romantic pining and humour, it’s a thrilling roller-coaster ride of a story that ends on a cliffhanger, and I can’t wait to find out how the final part of this duology resolves itself. Have a lovely week. X