Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo (Alex Stern, #1)


Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


The mesmerizing adult debut from Leigh Bardugo, a tale of power, privilege, dark magic, and murder set among the Ivy League elite

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug-dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. In fact, by age twenty, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. Their eight windowless “tombs” are the well-known haunts of the rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street’s biggest players. But their occult activities are more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive. They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And, sometimes, they prey on the living.


In the words of Eleanor Shellstrop . . .


Damn. That was so good.

So I have to be honest . . . I was a little nervous to read Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. I was not a fan of her most recent release (King of Scars) and it is a big jump from the Grishaverse into the adult world. I wasn’t sure if she could pull it off. BUT DAMN. I WAS SO WRONG. Ninth House was absolutely incredible. It definitely joins my list of favorite all-time books. I had the absolute pleasure of attending Leigh’s

Ninth House follows Alex Stern, who is a new Freshman at Yale. Alex has a special ability . . . she can see ghosts (known as Grays) when no one else can. Because of this ability, Alex is recruited to become the apprentice to Lethe House. It is here where Alex meets Daniel Arlington (aka Darlington). Alex learns that it is the responsibility of Lethe House to oversee the secret societies and to ensure they all act within order. But nothing is easy for Alex Stern and her apprenticeship quickly becomes so much more than she bargained for. Ninth House is told from Alex and Darlington’s points of view, and it takes place over the course of the year between Fall and Spring.

I had no idea what to expect from Ninth House due to it taking place in the real world. I actually loved that this story is a fantasy set in real life New Haven, Connecticut. I had zero knowledge of Yale’s secret societies prior to hearing about and then reading Ninth House. It is all so fascinating! I love the way Leigh took the facts and blended it with her story. The world building was just excellent! Leigh was able to create a complete atmosphere. From the campus setting to the ghosts and magic . . . this world and atmosphere was totally captivating. I felt completely transported to Alex’s world.

I loved the cast of characters. I didn’t always agree with their choices, but I always felt myself rooting for them. Alex’s character development was very well done. Leigh was able to write Alex in a way that she made huge strides in her development, but it all felt natural and well paced. I think Pamela Dawes is my favorite character. She’s a nerdy bad ass! And Darlington . . . I want more!

One of my favorite parts of Ninth House was the focus on feminism and inequality. Leigh did a wonderful job shining light onto privilege and the inequalities that women, minorities, and impoverished face. Leigh did not hold back in showing what happens if privilege is allowed to rule unchecked. Leigh was able to connect a story about ghosts and rituals to our present day society and its many issues. One of my favorite quotes from Ninth House addresses victim blaming. This quote (found on page 190) is just perfect. Leigh did such an outstanding job articulating our society’s major problem with victim blaming and the silencing of victims. Huge props to Leigh . . .

“Alex has indicated her own concerns regarding her assault, and instead of hearing her out, you’ve chosen to question her credibility. You may not have meant to imply anything, but intent and the effect were to silence her, so it’s hard not to think this stinks of victim blaming. It’s the semantic equivalent of saying her skirt was too short.”

Ninth House was a dark and twisty roller coaster. It kept me on the edge of my seat! I loved the mystery that had me guessing the whole time! I feel like I had permanent shocked face through the last ~100 pages. Congratulations to Leigh Bardugo on a fantastic adult debut!

I do need to include that Ninth House is definitely an ADULT fiction book.

Trigger warnings include: drug abuse and overdose, sexual assault, violence, murder, date rape, gore, and rituals.

King of Scars (Nikolai Duology, #1) – Leigh Bardugo


Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️


Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war―and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried―and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.


Welcome back to the Grishaverse! I consider the original Shadow and Bone trilogy to be one of my gateway to YA fantasy series. I really liked the trilogy and it led to me to so many more YA fantasy authors. Then Leigh published Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom and the Grishaverse got even better!! I absolutely adored this duology. So I was thrilled to learn that Leigh Bardugo was publishing another duology in the Grishaverse, but this time it would focus on Nikolai. I was ecstatic because Nikolai was one of my favorite parts of the original trilogy.

It was a long wait, but I finally got my hands on King of Scars and I dove right in. I’m sorry to say that I have mixed feelings about King of Scars.

I’ll start with what I liked . . .

First, and foremost, being back in the Grishaverse!! Bardugo’s world and its magic are so much fun. I love all the different orders of Grisha. I still don’t know which order I’d choose. I think it would be between Squallors and Healers. King of Scars expands on Grisha magic and lore in a very cool and interesting way. I am keeping this review spoiler free so I won’t tell you how.

NIKOLAI!!! Man I missed him and his ridiculous charm. I still love all of his one liners. There is a ton of growth and character development in Nikolai that occurred after the end of the war and in King of Scars. Nikolai is struggling with the demon inside of him and learning to live with the parts of himself that he does not like. Nikolai was so much more real in this story that in the past. I liked seeing that he isn’t always the charismatic, light-hearted man he portrays. It was great to see him in this new light. Although I still love charming Nikolai.

Zoya was the biggest surprise for me in King of Scars. I did not expect to like her point of view chapters so much, but I actually loved them. I especially loved getting to learn about her history. She is the perfect opposite to Nikolai’s easy-going nature. She also experiences huge amounts of growth throughout the story. I did not expect her story arc and I am looking forward to see where Bardugo takes it next.

The callbacks to other Grishaverse books, mostly Six of Crows. . . 

  •  “She wished she had Inej’s gift for spywork or Kaz’s gift for scheming, but she only seemed to have Jesper’s gift for bad decisions.”
  • “No mourners.”

Now, for what I didn’t like or thought was just meh . . .

The pacing. The first chapter of King of Scars pulled me in immediately and I was so excited about the story! But then the story dragged. It took until about half to three quarters of the way through to get exciting. It took 150 pages to get to the actual quest.

The three point of views: Nikolai, Zoya, and Nina (there is a fourth minor POV). Don’t get me wrong, I loved all three POVs. It just didn’t work as one book. To me, King of Scars was two different books. One was Nikolai and Zoya’s story and the other was Nina’s. Nina’s story felt completely separated from Nikolai and Zoya. I liked her story and thought it was a great arc for her, but it took me out of Nikolai and Zoya’s. I feel like Nina’s chapters should have been a separate novella that was released between the two Nikolai duology books. 

I wanted more. I felt like King of Scars was missing something. I saw the twist coming very early on. There were some elements that to the twist that I didn’t expect, but it didn’t make me gasp. I wanted to be shocked, but instead I was mildly surprised. Also there were scenes with Nikolai and Zoya training that felt lacking. I wanted more! We only get to see a quick look at each of their training. It would have been cool to explore this more.

Overall, I’m a bit disappointed by King of Scars. There were parts I liked and parts I didn’t. I’m a mixed bag for this one. I’ll read the next book because I’d love to know what happens and how Bardugo wraps it up. Part of me hopes that after the next book she closes the door on these characters. I’d love to learn more about the Grishaverse but with new characters and stories. . . like with Six of Crows.

One last point . . . I loved the subtle Beauty and the Beast reference! Did you notice it? Comment and let me know!