Read a full summary of Hell Bent, book #2 in Leigh Bardugo’s Alex Stern series. This page is full of spoilers, so beware. If you are wondering what happened in Hell Bent, then you are in the right place!
Special thanks to Grace Thomas for providing this recap!
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in Hell Bent?
Alex Stern spends the summer before the book begins searching for a way to travel to hell and retrieve the soul of Daniel Arlington. According to former Virgil Michelle Alameddine, a gauntlet was created on the Yale campus in 1938, but no one knows where it’s located. The Lethe Days Diary from 1938 briefly mentions the gauntlet being built “on hallowed ground,” but searching local churches reveals nothing.
Meanwhile, Alex is contacted by Eitan, an LA drug dealer and the cousin of Ariel, one of the men that Alex murdered using Hellie’s Gray. He demands that they meet – on her arrival, he tells Alex that he saw her leaving the apartment where Ariel was murdered, covered in blood and carrying a baseball bat. He sets a guard to attack her, and Alex fights back using the strength of a nearby Gray, revealing her true power to Eitan. Threatening to harm Alex’s mother if she refuses, Eitan begins sending Alex to collect debts from Eitan’s associates in the New Haven area.
Alex returns to Yale after the summer break, moving back in with her roommates Lauren and Mercy. While unpacking, she receives a text from Eitan informing her of a job. Alex goes to the apartment of small-time drug dealer Oddman and harnesses the power of a Gray to intimidate him. To her surprise, the Gray speaks through her body without her permission.
That evening, Alex observes a ritual at Book and Snake, during which a corpse is reanimated in order to spell out passcodes for a high-ranking general – as the spell starts to wear off, the body spells out Alex’s name over and over.
Determined to retrieve Darlington but giving up on the idea of finding a gauntlet, Alex and Pamela Dawes stage a false inspection of the Scroll and Key society to gain access to the nexus table owned by the society. They attempt to open a portal using the table and lure Darlington out, but their attempt fails, destroying the nexus table in the process. As the portal closes, they hear Darlington’s voice call out from the other side.
Michael Anselm, former Virgil and current member of the Lethe Board, confronts Alex about the failed ritual, telling her that she must stop trying to rescue Darlington if she wants to keep her position with Lethe. She lies and agrees to give up her efforts.
Receiving a notification from the security system at Black Elm, Darlington’s family home, she and Dawes drive to find Darlington in demon form sitting in one of the house’s upper rooms. He is trapped within a binding circle and wears a yoke – Alex and Dawes try to speak to him, but he is unresponsive.
Alex receives a call from Detective Abel Turner, Lethe’s police associate. The body of Marjorie Stephen, a psychiatry professor, has been found at the med school – while there are no apparent signs of foul play, her pupils are gray, and she appears prematurely aged. In addition, she is found with a Bible, open to the section of Judges reading, “Hide the outcasts.”
That night, Alex sleepwalks to Black Elm. While waiting for Dawes to pick her up, she is able to speak with Darlington, discovering that she, as a Wheelwalker, can cross the binding circle around him. He tells Alex that he can’t stay between worlds for very long and that he’ll soon either be cast back into Hell or released upon the world in his demon form. Darlington begs her to find the gauntlet and save him.
Dawes theorizes that Darlington knows the true location of the gauntlet but can’t say it outright, as demons cannot help but speak in riddles. Piecing together clues from their conversation, Alex theorizes that the gauntlet is located at Sterling Library.
In her research, Dawes discovers that four murderers are needed to walk the gauntlet and open a portal to Hell. Alex and Dawes will serve as two members of the ritual, but they struggle to find others. Alex returns to her dorm to find Michelle Alameddine, who has learned of the failed ritual at Scroll and Key. Alex tells her that they’ve discovered the gauntlet, but she refuses to help them open it, warning of the risks that lay beyond the veil and revealing that she’d attempted suicide in the past and wants to distance herself from the realms of the dead. Alex is envious of her ability to walk away from Lethe and Darlington but decides not to involve her further. Michelle leaves, claiming she’s late to meet her boyfriend in New York and must catch a train.
Feeling alone, Alex tells Mercy about Lethe and Yale’s magical underbelly, including how Blake Keely died the year before. Dawes researches gauntlet rituals, and she and Alex plan to hold the ritual on Halloween night, a few weeks away.
Turner calls Alex, informing her of another death on campus. The well-liked Dean Beekman, an American History professor, is dead, found with a broken neck and a quote from Isiah: “Hide the outcasts, bewray not him that wandereth.”
Guessing that Turner has killed someone and can serve as their third murderer, Alex tells him about the gauntlet and takes him to Black Elm to see Darlington. Turner is reluctant to help with the ritual, but Darlington warns that there will be a third body if they don’t find a way to bring him back.
Darlington’s parents arrive at Black Elm, and Alex harnesses the Gray of Darlington’s grandfather in order to scare them away. While he’s in her body, she witnesses fragments of his memories, discovering that he asked Darlington to pull the plug when he was dying of cancer and noticing that when Darlington brewed Hiram’s Elixir, he poured it into an Arlington Rubber Boots keepsake box to drink it.
At lunch the next day, Alex finds Mercy and Lauren grieving. Mercy reveals that she was acquainted with Dean Beekman and his wife and that she’d been planning to switch her major from English to American History despite the protests of various English professors. Looking for suspects, Alex asks Mercy which professors had seemingly disliked Beekman, but she can’t recall specifically, only that one of them thought he wasn’t a serious scholar and referred to him as a “glad handler.”
Alex, Dawes, and Turner sneak into the Peabody Museum and consult a model of New Haven located in one of the basement rooms, which reveals where a certain type of person is hiding depending on the spell cast on it. In this case, the group uses it to find murderers who may be willing to walk the gauntlet with them. Turner realizes that the map was initially created to find runaway slaves and is disgusted with magic and its role in propping up those already in power.
The map reveals a murderer hiding out at Skull and Bones, and the group arrives to discover a disheveled Tripp Helmuth, who had failed to graduate the year before. Unwelcome at his father’s house, he’s been hiding out at Skull and Bones – claiming that he could get in trouble if he doesn’t help them out, Alex recruits him to walk the gauntlet.
The next day, Alex meets with Lethe’s new overseer, Raymond Walsh-Whiteley, an English professor with old-fashioned and sexist views. Alex learns that Michael Anselm has informed him of her failed ritual at Scroll and Key, but he blames it on incompetence, believing that women should not be allowed at Lethe. He uses the phrase “glad-handler” in conversation, and Alex suspects he is one of the English professors who didn’t like Beekman.
The group discusses plans for the nearing gauntlet ritual, and Mercy volunteers to keep guard. Alex is grateful for her friendship but reluctant to put her in harm’s way.
Alex receives a call from Eitan about a new job, sending her to a mansion in Old Greenwich where she finds the eccentric, genteel Linus Reiter. He refuses to give her the money he owes despite having more than enough. Alex tries to intimidate him with force but discovers that Reiter is a vampire, impossibly strong and fast. Alex smashes his bar to distract him and runs away using the power of a nearby Gray, leaving behind her car in the process.
Turner drives Alex home from the failed job and informs her that both Stephan and Beekman had been involved in busting Ed Lambton, a professor who faked data on a paper. Michelle Alameddine also had involvements with both professors – Alex also earns that she spent an extra night in New Haven the day Beekman died instead of returning to New York like she said she did.
Alex researches Linus Reiter, finding his name in a 1930s Yale yearbook. A ‘Lionel Reiter’ is also mentioned in attendance at a debate between former Yale students on the nature of Hell and demons, in which vampires were theorized to be a class of demons. Alex wonders if Lionel is an alias of Reiter’s and theorizes that he used the gauntlet at Sterling to travel to Hell, where he was transformed into a vampire.
The next day, Alex meets with Anselm, who tells her that the Bible quotes at the scenes of the murders are associated with a famous historical trial in which three British judges were sentenced to death. Connecticut citizens hid them in a cave rather than submit them to the law – Alex tells Turner to look into Lambton’s son as a suspect, as it was the vengeful son of King Charles I who put the judges to death historically.
The group meets at Sterling on Halloween night – Alex, Dawes, Turner, and Tripp walk the gauntlet with Mercy standing guard. They emerge into the courtyard, where the fountain overflows. The group is submerged and descends into Hell.
After descending, Alex awakens in Hellie’s point of view, reliving the night of the murders in LA. Dawes relives killing Blake Keely, and Tripp recalls letting his abusive cousin drown when he falls off the boat during a sailing trip. Turner returns to the memory of working on a case with a crooked police higher-up, who shoots an unarmed man and then asks Turner to plant a gun in his hands to make it look as though he was killed in self-defense – disgusted, Turner takes the gun and shoots the officer before planting it on the murdered criminal.
The group comes in a dark orchard, having witnessed each others’ memories. Alex is glowing with a mysterious blue flame. The group realizes they’re in an inverted version of New Haven; they head to Black Elm, where a trapped Darlington tries desperately to rebuild the house’s crumbling walls. Alex calls him to her and captures his soul in the Arlington Rubber Boots box, but the dimension begins to fall apart, and a group of demonic wolves attacks them. Alex drives off the wolves with a whip made of fire, but Darlington’s soul escapes, and the group is pulled back into their own dimension. It’s revealed that the ritual had been interrupted by Anselm, who dismisses Turner from his position and bars Alex and Dawes from Lethe in his anger.
Michelle again shows up at Yale, apparently on an errand for the Butler library – Alex tells Turner about her visit, and he tells Alex that Michelle doesn’t even work at the Butler.
Alex sees a girl who appears eerily similar to Hellie but discovers her to be a demon wearing Hellie’s form and attempting to feed off Alex’s guilt. Alex flees to Il Bastone, telling the others to meet her. She discovers that all four have seen demonic versions of the people they’d killed and theorizes that these demons will feed off them and become vampires.
Dawes uses a spell that creates protective talismans for the group, and plans are made to reopen the portal on the next full moon three days later.
The demons attempt to set Il Bastone on fire, but the group fights them off using their talismans. Walsh-Whiteley shows up at the news, but not Anselm. He asks to meet with Alex and seems unaware she was stripped of her position with Lethe.
Later, Eitan shows up in New Haven, pulling Alex into an alley and claiming she’ll be freed from her contract with him as soon as she kills Reiter. She is unnerved that Eitan was able to track her exact location in order to corner her.
Turner calls Alex to tell her that they’ve arrested Ed Lambton’s son for the murders of the professors, but Turner thinks something is off and wants Alex to meet him. She goes to the mental hospital to speak with Andy Lambton – though he confessed having murdered the professors, he knows nothing about the Judges case and claims that “the ram” was the one who’d led him to murder. Alex theorizes that “the ram” was Darlington and returns to Black Elm to confront him.
At Black Elm, Alex finds the Grays of Darlington’s parents and the drained husks of their bodies – the Grays say they were killed by “something like their son.” Anselm arrives at Black Elm – before Alex can lead him out of the house, the ceiling caves in and reveals Darlington in demon form, freed from his binding circle.
Alex realizes the uncanny nature of her past interactions with Anselm and attacks him with her salt talisman, suspecting that he’s been a demon in disguise all along. Anselm reveals his true form: Golgarot, the demon that Darlington was bound to. Using her talisman to hold Golgarot back, Alex crosses the binding circle that had once held Darlington, planning to return to Hell and retrieve his soul so he can be truly freed. Golgarot smashes the Arlington Rubber Boots box, so Alex calls Darlington’s soul into her body instead to bring him back.
Darlington’s cat Cosmo holds Anselm back while Alex returns Darlington’s soul to his body, freeing him from his yoke. Darlington tears Golgarot in half but cannot truly kill him.
On their way to Il Bastone, Alex and Darlington meet the demons again; Darlington returns to his own demon form to fight them off but struggles to return to his human form afterward. He greets Dawes and the others, agreeing to return to Hell with them instead of Tripp, who hasn’t shown up to the house and isn’t answering his phone. He explains that Golgarot will be waiting for them in Hell, wanting a soul in return for Darlington’s.
That night, Mercy confronts Alex about her past, and Alex confesses to having killed several people with little remorse, unnerving Mercy. Alex talks to Darlington, who reveals that his soul is now bound to Alex, and he must serve her until she dies. He returns to Black Elm for the night.
Walsh-Whiteley shows up to Il Bastone shortly before Darlington and pretends that he’s just returned from his alleged trip to Spain, claiming he’d been trapped in a pocket dimension. The Praetor knows this is a lie but decides not to punish Lethe for it.
Alex calls Eitan to say she’s done working for him, telling him she’s decided to work for Reiter instead and claiming that her mother is under his protection. By angering him, Alex baits Eitan to follow her through New Haven and show up at the Gauntlet that evening.
How did Hell Bent end?
The group walks the gauntlet with Darlington and returns to Hell. Alex emerges from a sea of blood into her old LA apartment, where she relives the memory of finding her pet rabbit torn apart by a dog. Nobody in the house sympathizes with her, and she drives off to bury him, feeling guilty for bringing such an innocent creature into a life as dysfunctional as hers. She returns to the others, back in an inverted New Haven.
The group finds Golgarot with the other demons on leashes. He agrees to call off the demons and let Darlington and the others go free, but only if Alex offers her soul in exchange. It’s revealed that the Yale students who originally built the gauntlet made a deal with Golgarot, offering a Wheelwalker’s soul in exchange for power. If given, this soul would prop open the gates of Hell and allow demons free reign. Back in New Haven, Eitan arrives at Sterling, threatening Mercy. Mercy shoves him into the fountain, and he falls into Hell. As they’d been secretly planning, Alex pulls his spirit into her and yokes it to Golgarot instead of her own, fleeing back into the real world again.
The next day, Darlington mourns his parents, and Alex incinerates the bodies in the basement using her blue flame. They find Darlington’s Mercedes parked at Black Elm and open the trunk to find Michelle Alameddine – reading her diary, Darlington discovers that she’d been working as Reiter’s familiar for years, explaining her strange trips to New Haven. Alex plans her vengeance on Reiter.
The group goes to Tripp’s apartment to check on him, discovering that he’s been consumed by his demon and turned into a vampire. While he longs for blood, the vampire still has Tripp’s personality, his Talisman having protected his life force even as he was consumed. The group decides that he’s harmless and returns him to Il Bastone.
Leaving the apartment, Alex sees a demon perched on a rooftop and realizes that Golgarot used the blood she spilled while fighting him in Hell to prop open the gates, leaving a way for demons to swarm the living world.
There you go! That’s what happened in Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo. We hope you enjoyed this Hell Bent summary with spoilers.
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