One of our recommended books is Hell Bent and Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo


Wealth. Power. Murder. Magic.

Meet Galaxy “Alex” Stern in the New York Times bestselling novels Ninth House and Hell Bent. Packed with #1 bestselling author Leigh Bardugo’s signature twists, this mesmerizing dark academia series of too-real monsters and dark magic set among the Ivy League elite is impossible to put down.

Wealth. Power. Murder. Magic.

Meet Galaxy “Alex” Stern in the New York Times bestselling novels Ninth House and Hell Bent. Packed with #1 bestselling author Leigh Bardugo’s signature twists, this mesmerizing dark academia series of too-real monsters and dark magic set among the Ivy League elite is impossible to put down.

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  • Flatiron Books
  • Hardcover
  • January 2023
  • 9781250313102

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$29.99 indies Bookstore
  • Flatiron Books
  • Paperback
  • October 2020
  • 9781250751362

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$17.99 indies Bookstore

About Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is the author of Hell Bent

Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Ninth House and the creator of the Grishaverse (now a Netflix original series) which spans the Shadow and Bone trilogy, the Six of Crows duology, the King of Scars duology—and much more. Her short fiction has appeared in multiple anthologies including The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. She lives in Los Angeles and is an associate fellow of Pauli Murray College at Yale University.

Author Website


Praise for Ninth House and Hell Bent

Ninth House is the best fantasy novel I’ve read in years, because it’s about real people. Bardugo’s imaginative reach is brilliant, and this story―full of shocks and twists―is impossible to put down.” —Stephen King

“Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House rocked my world. I could not get enough of sinewy, ghost-haunted Alex Stern, a heroine for the ages. With a bruised heart and bleeding knuckles, she risks death and damnation ― again and again ― for the people she cares about. I was cheering her on the whole way: from the first brilliant sentence of this book to the last. More, please, Ms. Bardugo.” —Joe Hill, New York Times bestselling author of NOS4A2

“[T]he return of protagonist Alex Stern and her mystical version of the Ivy League is very welcome… Watching this damaged loner bring together a squad of ride-and-die friends is endlessly fun, and Bardugo finds new depths to most of her supporting cast.” The Washington Post

“Gut-wrenching and deeply human, this book will tug at your heartstrings even as it chills you to the bone…. Standing head and shoulders above the already impressive Ninth House, Hell Bent is one of the best fantasy novels of the year.” BookPage (starred reviewed)


Discussion Questions

 Discussion Questions for NINTH HOUSE


1. Alex’s life before Yale is lived on the fringes of society. At Yale, she finds herself in a somewhat similar situation: an outsider in a world of privilege. How does Alex’s sense of identity change over the course of the book? What kinds of attempts to assimilate into the culture does Alex make, and do they help or hinder her work for Lethe, and later, her attempts to solve Tara’s murder?

2. While Alex is in the hospital, Dean Sandow offers her a chance to remake her life by joining Lethe and attending Yale. If you were Alex, would you have said yes? What if you knew the challenges ahead? Have you ever been offered a second chance, and how did it impact your own journey? If you haven’t, is there a second chance you would like to be offered?

3. In contemplating Tara and Hellie’s death—and contemplating the possibility of her own death—Alex laments that “There are always excuses for why girls die.” How is violence against women in the novel made better or worse by magic? How does magic work differently for each of the main characters in the novel? How is this impacted by a character’s background and education?

4. Themes of class, race, and ethnicity are woven throughout Ninth House. How does having Alex as a narrator influence our view of the story and the world of Yale and New Haven? How would it be different if the story were narrated by Darlington, Dawes, or Turner?

5. Despite Darlington being absent for much of the novel, he’s still a big presence in Alex’s life and in the house of Lethe. Why do you think Alex has such a connection with Darlington despite how different they are in both background and personality? To what extent do you think their relationship transcends that of mentor and mentee and why?

6. There are many kinds of fantastical magic and houses in this novel. If you had to choose one house to be in, which would it be—and if your friends or family had to pick for you, do you think they would choose differently, and why?

7. Throughout the novel we see magic in Yale and New Haven used for both good and bad. If you were in charge of Lethe, would you run it differently? If you had the power to ban the use of magic by the Houses of the Veil, would you or wouldn’t you, and why?

8. At one point in the novel it’s said that New Haven is a place where magic took root. The idea of magic being drawn to certain places is a new way of looking at a map—is there a place you’ve visited that you felt magic might be lurking? What was that place, and why?

9. There are many ghosts in this novel. Some of them become allies, like the Bridegroom; others are more insidious and even evil. Most people have ghosts of a different variety, namely ghosts from our pasts—a difficult ex, our younger selves, or friends from a time long gone. How do you think those kinds of ghosts are similar to the ghosts in Ninth House? How are they different, and what allows them to exert influence over us?




Early Spring

By the time Alex managed to get the blood out of her good wool coat, it was too warm to wear it. Spring had come on grudgingly; pale blue mornings failed to deepen, turning instead to moist, sullen afternoons, and stubborn frost lined the road in high, dirty meringues. But sometime around mid-March, the slices of lawn between the stone paths of Old Campus began to sweat themselves free of snow, emerging wet, black, and tufty with matted grass, and Alex found herself notched into the window seat in the rooms hidden on the top floor of 268 York, reading Suggested Requirements for Lethe Candidates.

She heard the clock on the mantel tick, the chiming of the bell as customers came and went in the clothing store below. The secret rooms above the shop were affectionately known as the Hutch by Lethe members, and the commercial space beneath them had been, at varying times, a shoe store, a wilderness outfitter, and a twenty-four-hour Wawa mini-mart with its own Taco Bell counter. The Lethe diaries from those years were filled with complaints about the stink of refried beans and grilled onions seeping up through the floor—until 1995, when someone had enchanted the Hutch and the back staircase that led to the alley so that they smelled always of fabric softener and clove.

Alex had discovered the pamphlet of Lethe House guidelines sometime in the blurred weeks after the incident at the mansion on Orange. She had checked her email only once since then on the Hutch’s old desktop, seen the long string of messages from Dean Sandow, and logged off. She’d let the battery run down on her phone, ignored her classes, watched the branches sprout leaves at the knuckles like a woman trying on rings. She ate all the food in the pantries and freezer—the fancy cheeses and packs of smoked salmon first, then the cans of beans and syrup-soaked peaches in boxes marked EMERGENCY RATIONS. When they were gone, she ordered takeout aggressively, charging it all to Darlington’s still-active account. The trip down and up the stairs was tiring enough that she had to rest before she tore into her lunch or dinner, and sometimes she didn’t bother to eat at all, just fell asleep in the window seat or on the floor beside the plastic bags and foil-wrapped containers. No one came to check on her. There was no one left.

The pamphlet was cheaply printed, bound with staples, a black-and-white picture of Harkness Tower on the cover, We Are th Shepherds printed beneath it. She doubted the Lethe House founders had Johnny Cash in mind when they’d chosen their motto, but every time she saw those words she thought of Christmastime, of lying on the old mattress in Len’s squat in Van Nuys, room spinning, a half-eaten can of cranberry sauce on the floor beside her, and Johnny Cash singing, “We are the shepherds, we walked ’cross the mountains. We left our flocks when the new star appeared.” She thought of Len rolling over, sliding his hand under her shirt, murmuring into her ear, “Those are some shitty shepherds.”

The guidelines for Lethe House candidates were located near the back of the pamphlet and had last been updated in 1962.

High academic achievement with an emphasis on history and chemistry. Facility with languages and a working knowledge of Latin and Greek.

Good physical health and hygiene. Evidence of a regular fitness regimen encouraged.

Exhibits signs of a steady character with a mind toward discretion.

An interest in the arcane is discouraged, as this is a frequent indicator of an “outsider” disposition.

Should demonstrate no squeamishness toward the realities of the human body.


Alex—whose knowledge of Latin was less than working—looked it up: Death conquers all. But in the margin, someone had scrawled irrumat over vincit, nearly obliterating the original with blue ballpoint pen.

Beneath the Lethe requirements, an addendum read: Standards for candidates have been relaxed in two circumstances: Lowell Scott (B.A., English, 1909) and Sinclair Bell Braverman (no degree, 1950), with mixed results.

Another note had been scratched into the margin here, this one clearly in Darlington’s jagged, EKG-like scrawl: Alex Stern. She thought of the blood soaking the carpet of the old Anderson mansion black. She thought of the dean—the startled white of his femur jutting from his thigh, the stink of wild dogs filling the air.

Alex set aside the aluminum container of cold falafel from Mamoun’s, wiped her hands on her Lethe House sweats. She limped to the bathroom, popped open the bottle of zolpidem, and tucked one beneath her tongue. She cupped her hand beneath the faucet, watched the water pour over her fingers, listened to the grim sucking sound from the mouth of the drain. Standards for candidates have been relaxed in two circumstances.

For the first time in weeks, she looked at the girl in the water-speckled mirror, watched as that bruised girl lifted her tank top, the cotton stained yellow with pus. The wound in Alex’s side was a deep divot, crusted black. The bite had left a visible curve that she knew would heal badly, if it healed at all. Her map had been changed. Her coastline altered. Mors irrumat omnia. Death fucks us all.

Alex touched her fingers gently to the hot red skin surrounding the teeth marks. The wound was getting infected. She felt some kind of concern, her mind nudging her toward self-preservation, but the idea of picking up the phone, getting a ride to the undergrad health center—the sequence of actions each new action would incite—was overwhelming, and the warm, dull throb of her body setting fire to itself had become almost companionable. Maybe she’d get a fever, start hallucinating.

She eyed the thrust of her ribs, the blue veins like downed power lines beneath her fading bruises. Her lips were feathered with chapped skin. She thought of her name inked into the margins of the pamphlet—the third circumstance.

“Results were decidedly mixed,” she said, startled by the husky rattle of her voice. She laughed and the drain seemed to chuckle with her. Maybe she already had a fever.

In the fluorescent glare of the bathroom lights, she gripped the edges of the bite in her side and dug her fingers into it, pinching the flesh around her stitches until the pain dropped over her like a mantle, the blackout coming on in a welcome rush.

That was in the spring. But the trouble had begun on a night in the full dark of winter, when Tara Hutchins died and Alex still thought she might get away with everything.







Alex approached Black Elm as if she were sidling up to a wild animal, cautious in her walk up the long, curving driveway, careful not to show her fear. How many times had she made this walk? But today was different. The house appeared through the bare branches of the trees, as if it had been waiting for her, as if it had heard her footsteps and anticipated her arrival. It didn’t crouch like prey. It stood, two stories of gray stone and peaked roofs, a wolf with paws planted and teeth bared. Black Elm had been tame once, glossy and preening. But it had been left on its own too long.

The boarded-up windows on the second floor made it all so much worse, a wound in the wolf ’s side that, left untended, might turn it mad.

She slotted her key into the old back door and slipped into the kitchen. It was chillier inside than out—they couldn’t afford to keep the place heated, and there was no reason to. But despite the cold and the mission she’d come here to fulfill, the room still felt welcoming. Copper pans hung in neat rows above the big vintage stove, bright and ready, eager to be used. The slate floor was spotless, the counters wiped clean and set with a milk bottle full of holly branches that Dawes had arranged just so. The kitchen was the most functional room of Black Elm, alive with regular care, a tidy temple of light. This was how Dawes dealt with all they’d done, with the thing lurking in the ballroom.

Alex had a routine. Well, Dawes had a routine and Alex tried to follow it, and it felt like a rock to cling to now as fear tried to drag her under. Unlock the door, sort the mail and set it on the counter, fill Cosmo’s bowls with fresh food and water.

They were usually empty, but today Cosmo had tipped the food on its side, scattering the floor with fish-shaped pellets, as if in protest. Darlington’s cat was mad at being left alone. Or frightened by not being quite so alone anymore.

“Or maybe you’re just a picky little shit,” Alex muttered, cleaning up the food. “I’ll pass your comments along to the chef.”

She didn’t like the sound of her voice, brittle in the quiet, but she made herself finish slowly, methodically. She filled the water and food bowls, tossed out the junk mail addressed to Daniel Arlington, and tucked a water bill into her bag that she would take back to Il Bastone. Steps in a ritual, performed with care, but they offered no protection. She considered making coffee. She could sit outside in the winter sunlight and wait for Cosmo to come find her, when he saw fit to leave off prowling the messy tangle of the hedge maze for mice. She could do that. Push her worry and anger aside, and try to solve this puzzle, even though she didn’t want to complete the picture emerging with every new and nasty piece.

Alex glanced up at the ceiling as if she were able to see through the floorboards. No, she couldn’t just sit on the porch and pretend everything was as it should be, not when her feet wanted to climb those stairs, not when she knew she should run the other way, lock the kitchen door behind her, pretend she’d never heard of this place. Alex had come here for a reason, but now she wondered at her stupidity. She wasn’t up to this task. She’d talk to Dawes, maybe even Turner. For once she’d make a plan instead of rushing headlong into disaster.

She washed her hands at the sink, and it was only when she turned to reach for a towel that she saw the open door. Alex dried her hands, trying to ignore the way her heart had leapt into a run. She had never noticed that door in the butler’s pantry, a gap between the pretty glass cupboards and shelves. She’d never seen it open before. It shouldn’t be open now.

Dawes might have left it that way. But Dawes was licking her wounds from the ritual and hiding behind her rows of index cards. She hadn’t been here in days, not since she had set those holly branches on the kitchen counter, making a picture of what life should be. Clean and easy. An antidote to the rest of their days and nights, to the secret above.

She and Dawes never bothered with the butler’s pantry, its rows of dusty dishes and glassware, its soup terrine the size of a small bathtub. It was one of the many vestigial limbs of the old house, disused and forgotten, left to atrophy since Darlington’s disappearance. And they certainly never bothered with the basement. Alex had never even thought about it. Not until now, standing at the kitchen sink, surrounded by tidy blue tiles painted with windmills and tall ships, staring at that black gap, a perfect rectangle, a sudden void. It looked as if someone had simply peeled away part of the kitchen. It looked like the mouth of a grave.

Call Dawes.

Alex leaned against the counter.

Back out of the kitchen and call Turner.

She set down the towel and drew a knife from the block beside the sink. She wished there were a Gray nearby, but she didn’t want to risk calling one to her.

The size of the house, its deep silence, sat heavy around her. She glanced up again, thought of the golden shimmer of the circle, the heat it gave off. I have appetites. Had those words excited her when they should have only made her afraid?

Alex walked quietly toward the open door, the absence of a door. How deep had they dug when they’d built this house? She could count three, four, five stone steps leading down into the basement, and then they faded into the dark. Maybe there were no more stairs. Maybe she would take a step, fall, keep falling into the cold.

She felt along the wall for a light switch, then looked up and saw a ratty piece of twine dangling from an exposed bulb. She yanked on it, and the stairs were flooded with warm yellow light. The bulb made a comforting hum.

“Shit,” Alex said on a breath. Her terror dissolved, leaving nothing but embarrassment in its place. Just stairs, a wooden railing, shelves stacked with rags, cans of paint, tools lining the wall. A faint, musty smell rose up from the dark below, a vegetable stink, the hint of rot. She heard the drip of water and the shuffle of what might have been a rat.

She couldn’t quite make out the base of the stairs, but there had to be another switch or bulb below. She could go down there, make sure no one had been rooting around, see if she and Dawes needed to set out traps.

But why was the door open?

Cosmo could have nudged it on one of his ratting expeditions. Or maybe Dawes really had popped by and gone down to the basemen for something ordinary—weed killer, paper towels. She’d forgotten to close up properly.

So Alex would shut the door. Lock it tight. And if, by chance, there was something down there that wasn’t meant to be down there, it could stay right where it was until she called for reinforcements.

She reached for the twine and paused there, hand gripping the string, listening. She thought she heard—there, again, a soft hiss.

The sound of her name. Galaxy.

“Fuck this.” She knew how this particular movie ended, and there was no way she was going down there.

She yanked on the twine and heard the pop of the bulb, then felt a hard shove between her shoulder blades.

Alex fell. The knife clattered from her hands. She fought the urge to reach out to break her fall and covered her head instead, letting her shoulder take the brunt of it. She half-slid, half-tumbled to the base of the stairs, and hit the floor hard, her breath flooding out of her like a draft through a window. The door above her slammed. She heard the lock click. She was in the dark.

Her heart was racing now. What was down here with her? Who had locked her in with it? Get up, Stern. Get your shit together. Get ready to fight.

Was it her voice she was hearing? Darlington’s?

Hers, of course. Darlington would never swear.

She pushed herself to her feet, bracing her back against the wall. At least nothing could come at her from that direction. It was hard to breathe. Once bones broke, they learned the habit. Blake Keely had cracked two of her ribs less than a year ago. She thought they might be broken again. Her hands were slippery. The floor was wet from some old leak in the walls, and the air smelled fetid and wrong. She wiped her palms on her jeans and waited, her breath coming in ragged gasps. From somewhere in the dark, she heard what might have been a whimper.

“Who’s there?” she rasped, hating the fear in her voice. “Come at me, you cowardly fuck.”


She fumbled for her phone, for light, the blue glow vibrant and startling. She directed the beam over shelves of old paint thinner, tools, boxes labeled in a jagged hand she knew was Darlington’s, dusty crates emblazoned with a circular logo: Arlington & Co. Rubber Boots. Then the light glinted off two pairs of eyes.

Alex choked on a scream, nearly dropping her phone. Not people, Grays, a man and a woman, clinging to each other, trembling with fear. But it wasn’t Alex they were afraid of. She’d gotten it wrong. The floor wasn’t wet from a leak or rainwater or some old burst pipe. The floor was slick with blood. Her hands were covered in it. She’d smeared it on her jeans.

Two bodies lay heaped on the old brick. They looked like cast-off clothing, piles of rags. She knew those faces. Heaven, to keep its beauty, cast them out.

There was so much blood. New blood. Fresh.

The Grays hadn’t abandoned their bodies. Even in her panic, she knew that was strange.

“Who did this?” she asked them and the woman moaned.

The man pressed a finger to his lips, eyes full of fear as they darted around the basement. His whisper drifted through the dark.

“We’re not alone.”