“I want to survive this world that keeps trying to destroy me.”
Galaxy "Alex" Stern is a high school dropout, drug addict, and seer of ghosts, dragged into world of Yale frat boys playing at cults and old magic they can never understand. After a traumatic, near-death experience, she is offered a deal within the ninth secret house, hence the name, to attend Yale and simultaneously oversee the use of ritual magic throughout the year. We are the shepherds.
This is only the beginning. The magic in Ninth House is dark, gritty, its users unsure of its full potential. Secrets and lies fly abundant, in a way that is never dull, predictable, or overly showy. The plot is cleverly woven, and more importantly, this is a story full of real people. Alex Stern (and with a name like Galaxy, you really can't go wrong) is truly what makes the story so readable. Bardugo never attempts to beautify Alex's very justified anger, disbelief, anxiety, or strength; she is as magical as she is ragged, as resigned as she is determined, as accepting of the ghosts she sees as she is lacking understanding of the true nastiness of the magic she is charged with keeping.
Daniel Arlington, "Darlington", is barely in the story himself, yet is as real a character as Alex Stern or the ever-endearing Pamela Dawes. The combination of the reality of the characters and the visceral unreality of the magic, the view of Yale through sinister eyes, the parallel narratives jumping quickly from light to dark, propels the plot and invites the reader to carry on to the very end.
The rising plot began slowly, but throughout, all of the convoluted, seemingly unrelated stories, in a haze of drugs, magic, betrayal, and gritty reality, eventually come together to reveal an overhead plot, with Galaxy Stern in the middle of it all. She is the driving force behind the book, no matter what else entails, and though Bardugo is obviously talented in all aspects of her writing, Alex Stern is clearly the heart of this particular narrative.