Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

The basics

Title: Ninth House


Series: Alex Stern #1

- Ninth House (2019)
- Hell Bent (2023)

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Goodreads Summary:

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. By age twenty, in fact, 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 elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

Read a full summary of Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo below. If you can’t remember what happened in Ninth House and you need a refresher, then you’re in the right place.

What happened in Ninth House?

  • Alex has gone to Yale for school and has joined House Lethe, which monitors the campus’s secret societies. Alex is known as a Dante (a newb). House Lethe has settled in New Haven because that’s where the veil between worlds is thinnest.
  • Alex got a scholarship because she’s able to see ghosts without an elixir. The elixir damages the consumer, so it’s super impressive that Alex can see ghosts without it.
  • Alex has been having nightmares about a place called Ground Zero, where many of her friends died. Alex survived and was put in hospital.
  • Alex’s mentor is called Darlington. His position is called a Virgil.
  • In House Lethe, a new Dante is chosen every three years and the current Dante is promoted to a Virgil. Everyone thinks Darlington is hot. He has disappeared though.
  • Alex goes to Skull and Bones where people go to get financial and stock tips. In order to do this, a haruspex looks through a living person’s organs. It’s gross.
  • Alex notices that the ghosts are getting a bit lary. She uses bone dust to keep them away.
  • Pamela calls Alex and tells her there has been a possible homicide. Alex heads to the crime scene and meets Detective Turner. The victim is a young woman called Tara. Tara is not part of any society. Detective Turner thinks the boyfriend, Lance, killed her.
  • Alex gets the coroner to show her Tara’s body.
  • Alex goes for breakfast with her roommate, Mercy.
  • Professor Belbalm finds Alex and tells her she’s worried about her grades. She can’t be THAT worried though because she offers Alex a summer job.
  • Alex recalls how Darlington taught her to ward off ghosts. At the time a ghost actually grabbed Alex’s arm, which shouldn’t have been possible.
  • It turns out that the Lethe knew about Alex’s ability to see ghosts but instead of helping her they just monitored her to see what would happen. Alex is angry about this because it ultimately led to Alex being SA’d by a ghost when it was attracted to her period blood.
  • The trauma caused Alex to use drugs to dull her senses. She dropped out of school and befriended an older guy called Len.
  • Alex borrows Darlington’s car to visit the morge. She uses magic to conjure up what happened to Tara. She sees Lance stab Tara, but it seems as though Tara didn’t feel it at the time.
  • Turner arrives and tells Alex that Tara and Lance were using hallucinogenic drugs and that’s why Tara wasn’t feeling anything. Turner tells Alex tha tTara knew a guy called Trip, who works at Skull and Bones and is part of one of the secret societies. Alex thinks this is a link, but Turner disagrees.
  • Alex heads to Black Elm where Darlington lives. She returns the car, although is saddened to find that Darlington still isn’t there.
  • Alex gets attacked by a creature which is fought off by a Bridegroom ghost. Alex escapes amid the chaos and gets to a safe house. Dawes is there and tells Alex that the creature was a type of spirit called a gluma. It’s meant to be a messenger. Alex figures someone is after her.
  • Alex recalls how she and Darlington attended a secret society party. Darlington was drugged by a fog machine and it was super embarrassing.
  • Alex wakes up and the ghost from earlier is waiting. Dean Sandow arrives. Alex tells Dean Sandow that she needs to investigate Tara’s death because she thinks something dodgy is going on. Sandow warns Alex not to upset the other societies.
  • Alex talks about the night Darlington disappeared, and Sandow tells her that Darlington went into a portal and was unable to be retrieved.
  • Alex and Dawes head to the Wolf’s Head. Alex makes a deal so they’ll help her communicate with the Bridegroom ghost. She promises to get a statue back for them from another society.
  • Alex is told she will need to die and be brought back to life in order to properly communicate with the ghosts. Alex is drowned, then Alex is able to make a deal with the Bridegroom ghost. The Bridegroom will look into Tara’s death, and Alex will find out who killed his fiancee, Daisy.
  • The Bridegroom thinks Darlington was looking into Daisy’s death too so there’s clearly something here. The Bridegroom tells Alex that his name is Bertram Boyce North. He tells Alex that Tara had a tattoo of a poem that links with the portal society, Scroll and Key.
  • We learn that Darlington’s great-something grandfather ran a rubber boot factory, which then had to close down. Darlington was raised by his grandfather because his parents were crap. When his grandfather died, Darlington was given some money and the house. Darlington struggled with the upkeep and started messing about with elixirs. Dean Sandow found him and offered him a place at Yale.
  • Alex goes to speak to Tripp. He reveals that Tara and Lance were selling weed to society members Colin and Kate. Tripp is unable to give Alex Tara’s address, so Alex goes to Turner to get it instead.
  • Alex finds that the Bridgegroom and Daisy were found dead in a factory that belonged to North’s family. This was in 1854.
  • Mercy is upset because a guy is showing people a sex tape of her. She’s also using drugs in it.
  • Alex speaks to the president of Manuscript and tells him to recall the video. Mike gives Alex a powder that’ll make her more persuasive. Alex speaks to Blake and persuades him to delete the video. Blake is also made to video himself eating his own excrement. Gross.
  • Blake tells Alex that he bought the drug from Lance and Tara.
  • Alex heads to Tara’s place. A man appears and attacks her before she can do much.
  • On the night Darlington disappeared, Alex and Darlington were investigating a goings on on the magical grid. Darlington learns that Alex can allow ghosts to possess her, which isn’t a thing anyone knew could happen. Darlington goes off to close a portal that someone has opened, and then he disappears.
  • At Ground Zero, the night everyone got injured or died, Len told Alex to entertain the guys he was dealing with. Alex didn’t want to go that night so her friend Hellie did instead. Alex comes across Hellie dead at Ground Zero. Alex allows Hellie’s ghost to possess her, and Alex murders everyone.
    -Alex links up with the Bridegroom’s powers and fights the mechanic man off. Turner shows up and helps out. It turns out that the attacker is Lance, and he has escaped jail. Lance demands to know who killed Tara.
  • Dawes heals Alex. The Bridegroom tells Alex that their connection has been strengthened. He tells Alex that he was once possessed by a ghost who then killed Daisy.
  • The group talk and theorise that Lance and Tara had been growing the drug, Merity. I thought this was quite obvious. They also think they were dabbling with portal magic.
  • Alex goes to a party and talks to someone called Isabelle, who confirms that Colin was at the salon the previous week.
  • Alex learns that a student called Sveta has cleaned out Tara’s greenhouse drug den.
  • Alex goes to question Lance, who confirms that Kate asked him and Tara to grow Merity. They sold some to blake, who brought Colin along. Colin asked them to grow mushrooms.
  • During the new moon, Alex prepares to bring Darlington back through the portal. She and the others perform a ritual but it doesn’t work. A bloodhound appears, which means that Darlington has been consumed by hell.
  • Blake shows up and attacks Dawes. He tries to kill Alex. Dawes fights and kills him.
  • Turner listens to the voicemail messages on Blake’s phone and learns that Tara found out what they were growing and threatened to go to the police.
  • Alex fills Sandow in but he refuses to punish any of the societies.
  • Alex goes to stay at Hutch to recover. A few weeks later, Mercy brings Alex’s mother along.
  • The Bridegroom possesses Alex in order to give her a list of dates. Alex is annoyed but looks into this information. She finds some of Darlington’s notes, which show the dates correspond with deaths, as well as the founding of the societies’ tombs. Alex figures that the power that fuels the societies is created by the deaths of women.
  • Daisy was the first death. Tara was the last.
  • Alex goes to confront Dean Sandow. He admits he killed Tara because he needed money, and St Elmo paid him to create a new nexus. He says no new nexus was created when Tara died, though.
  • Sandow thinks he did something wrong. He admits to summoning a hellbeast to kill Alex and Darlington. He was the one who sent the gluma too.
  • Professor Belbalm shows up and tells Alex that she is Daisy. The two of them have the same powers. Daisy says that back in 1854, a soul tried to possess her but Daisy shoved it into the Bridegroom instead. The ghost shot Daisy and then killed the Bridegroom.
  • When Daisy died from her wounds, her soul possessed a maid’s body. She has been able to consume souls to keep herself alive all this time, and this also creates new nexuses. If she were to consume the soul of another with the same powers, it would sustain her for longer.
  • Belbalm kills Sandow and tries to eat Alex, but Alex controls the souls that Belbalm has consumed and fights Belbalm off. Alex extracts all the souls and Belbalm’s body crumbles.
  • Alex and Dawes meet with Michelle. Alex says she thinks Darlington’s soul is still around and trying to communicate with her. She thinks he’s now a demon, so she wants to go to hell and rescue him.

That was our recap of what happened in Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. Check out our recap list for more plot summaries, and if you can’t find what you need you can request a recap here!

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