Have you ever eaten something….decided you did not really enjoy it as much as you wanted to…and then craved it a month later?
That is exactly how I felt about The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo forever ago. I swore up and down to my friend that I was not reading the next one, I was pretending like the last chapter never happened, and it was forever going to be a 3.5 star standalone book for me.
Well, a month before the release date for the second book in the Alex Stern series was set to come out, I just woke up one morning with a craving. I bought it on release day. I never buy full price Kindle books that I haven’t read and loved before. I needed it. Ironic considering the main book is about a former drug addict.
Alex Stern had a rough life. Rough life is actually probably an understatement. With supernatural powers that are swept under the psychiatric rug, a mother who lives on a different plane of reality, and an easy path into the SoCal drug scene, she spends what little of her adult life she has experienced in a dingy apartment being used and using. She violently kills her drug dealer boyfriend and the Kingpin’s brother when they brutalize her best friend and leave her to die of an overdose. Alex’s supernatural power comes from her ability to see and hear ghosts still lurking in the shadows. Naturally, as happens in books, she is recruited by a secret society and whisked away to Yale to start a new life.
This is where book one, Ninth House begins. This is not a review of Ninth House, but those details are crucial in the storyline of Hell Bent, book two. So, this is your spoiler warning. Continue on at your own peril.
Hell Bent picks up after the ever enticing Darlington has been gobbled up by a Hellhound and banished to Hell. Dawes and Alex have given the whole summer over to a half assed attempt to extricate him, but their hearts were not in it. Trauma has filled Il Bastone and they have hunkered down. By the time they get their courage up to finally make some hard efforts at finding Darlington, a demon has taken up residence in Black Elm, the administration is sniffing around and warning them off their attempts, and Eitan has appeared and roped Alex back into his dingy druggy underworld. Nothing good ever happens to Alex.
Several trips to hell, many murderers, and a random vampire make up a decent enough story with tremendous characters.
I don’t love this series, but I keep coming back. It sticks in my head. I can’t decide if it is the darkness sticking in my brain, the long drawn out sections in the middle of the action, or something else entirely that is making me not love it. It is not a bad book, and certainly not bad writing, but it just doesn’t make itself a five star book.
The positives are huge though. If you like character writing, secret societies, dark academia, and flawed heroes, this is your book. Alex and Darlington are easily some of the most enjoyable characters I have ever read. Their backstories are so different on the surface, but as their journeys move along, you find they have so many things that make them connect. Every character has their own strong place in the story and every character (mostly) serves a purpose. Plus, how can you resist a backdrop of dark old mansions, beautiful libraries, and hidden rooms.
It is a solid “Read it” from me, with minor reservations about who I recommend it to. It is a 5 star book for character writing and a 3.5 star book for story.