Read a full summary of Ninth House, book #1 of Leigh Bardugo’s new series, right here! This page is full of spoilers, so beware. If you are wondering what happened in Ninth House, then you are in the right place!
The Alex Stern Series
#1 Ninth House
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in Ninth House?
Galaxy (Alex) Stern is the only person to survive a vicious multiple homicide. Her boyfriend Len and best friend Helen (Hellie) both die in the attack. When Alex wakes in the hospital, Dean Sandow from Yale is at her bedside asking about the Grays, aka ghosts, that she’s been able to see all of her life.
Alex doesn’t admit to it at the time, but as readers we slowly discover that Alex committed the murders. When her best friend Hellie dies of an apparent overdose at a party, Alex attacks all the men with a baseball bat. It’s easy to see the perpetrator was left-handed by the pattern of the swings and the blood spatter. Alex is right-handed and is thus easily acquitted. But her friend Hellie was left-handed, and the ghost of the girl inhabits Alex’s body for long enough to kill the men who contributed to her death.
With all of this unbeknownst to him, Dean Sandow makes Alex an unbelievable offer at her hospital bedside. He and his compatriots will give her a full ride to Yale if she joins Lethe, one of the university’s secret societies. It’s called the Ninth House, the one that serves as a regulating body to the other eight. (See notes at the end of this recap about the eight houses.)
Alex agrees to the dean’s offer and is soon transported to New Haven, CT. Her new life is a far cry from her years of being hungry and being laughed at for her oddities. Her hippie mother was loving but wasn’t able to give her the clothes and lifestyle that would help her fit in or at least go unnoticed at school.
Thanks to the university cafeteria, Alex is no longer hungry every minute of every day. And thanks to her mentor Daniel Arlington, aka Darlington, she’s not as lonely as she expected to be in this new city.
Darlington is the opposite of Alex in every way. He’s a golden boy: handsome, preppy, and raised in a wealthy family. He’s charming, and everyone loves him. He’s a senior at Yale, a Virgil (trainer) in Lethe. He’s preparing to pass the torch to Alex, the freshman Dante (apprentice) who will be the Virgil at Lethe next year when Darlington has graduated and moved on from the university and its secret societies.
The story unfolds in alternating POV’s. Alex’s story is told from the present, which is wintertime in New Haven. And Darlington’s story is told from the past, back in fall when he first began training Alex.
Alex’s POV begins around the time of a murder near the outskirts of campus. She doesn’t get much information from Detective Turner, Lethe’s police contact, at the crime scene. But then she never gets much respect from him, especially without Darlington at her side.
Darlington has gone missing. Something went terribly wrong recently, and Lethe is lying and telling everyone that Darlington is on a trip to Spain. The details of his disappearance are a mystery to the reader at this point.
Since she gets almost nothing out of Detective Turner, Alex uses a charmed compulsion coin to coerce the coroner at the scene to give her as much information on Tara (the victim) as possible. Alex then goes to the morgue to look at the body for clues. Even though something has felt off about this crime from the beginning, Alex can find no evidence to dismiss the police conclusion that Tara was murdered in an act of passion by her boyfriend. Alex even goes into Tara’s mind and sees her boyfriend Lance’s face hovering over her during her last moments.
A ghost attacks Alex in and in front of a convenience store. Even though she sees them every day, this is only the second time a Gray has ever touched her. The first time was when she was on a middle school field trip and a Gray began to rape her in the girls’ bathroom. Then it was a teacher who saved her. This time, another Gray, the Bridegroom, stopped the attack.
Alex was wearing Darlington’s hat because she’d gone to his house to sleep in his bed and feel close to him and forgot to remove the hat. Dawes has to heal her from the beetles eating her from the inside out as a result of the red fog the Gray blew in her face.
Alex knows why Gray came after her. Someone sent it to kill her. She assumes it’s one of the societies because she was correct about Tara’s death. Little did they know, she had dismissed her suspicions. Now she must continue her investigation to see which society is at fault in Tara’s death.
The only one who might have information is the Bridegroom ghost. Alex thinks he might’ve saved her because he knew what was going on. Maybe he’ll tell her what he knows if she promises to do something for him in return. She asks Dawes to kill her temporarily so she can speak to him. Dawes drowns her. Alex finds the bridegroom and makes her request.
Alex visits Tripp, the only specific society name that came up in her search. She doesn’t turn anything up. She goes to see the policeman Turner next. She acts like she wants to question Lance, Tara’s boyfriend who is now in custody for her murder. She gets Tara’s address from him in a sneaky way.
Alex goes to find Blake after she finds out what he did to her roommate Mercy at a frat party. She gets into the frat house after eating some compulsion power to make the guys pliable. She wipes the videos of Mercy from Blake’s phone before they can make the rounds to his friends. She sends out a video of Blake eating poop from a toilet instead.
Alex goes to Tara’s old house to get something the Bridegroom can use to find her on the other side of the veil. She gets Tara’s retainer and gives it to him. Lance, who was in jail for the murder, shows up and attacks Alex. Detective Turner finds an injured Alex at Tara’s house and drives her back to Dawes. Dawes sends Turner out for goat’s milk. Alex soaks in it to reverse her body to a state a couple of hours ago. When it turns clear, she’s healed.
The Bridegroom comes to visit while Dawes is getting food for Alex. He says he saw she’s a killer when he was in her body. She lets him inhabit her body again to have the sensation of eating the food Dawes has brought for her. She sees back in time and realizes even though he adamantly denies it, the Bridegroom did kill his fiancé and then commit suicide. But it appears his body was somehow undergoing a ritual at the time and he was disoriented. He didn’t even know he was holding a gun.
Turner comes back with all of the files on Tara’s murder for Alex to review. He lets her and Dawes watch the prison video showing Lance disappear as he rounds a corner at jail. He then turns up later in the jail’s infirmary with injuries from his fight with Alex.
Turner’s starting to believe he’s wrong and wants to know what they have on Tara’s murder. Alex tells him details about Tara’s tie to four different houses and her suspicion about Tara and Lance growing Merity to sell. They notice a gold crucible in one of the crime photos, furthering their belief that they were growing and processing the acolyte drug for one of the houses. Lance could’ve used it to make a portal out of the jail. But why would he go back?
As they discuss this further, they come up with a possible motive for Tara‘s murder. A house would be disbanded if they gave information to an outsider, so if Tara threatened to go public with some of the things she knew, they might have silenced her. Turner asks where Darlington truly is and says he won’t take Spain for an answer.
Alex goes to Belbalm’s party (aka salon). By visiting with the other students serving in the kitchen, she discovers Colin and Dean Sandow have solid alibis for the night of Tara’s murder.
Alex goes to the greenhouse to investigate and realizes the room Tara had been in is wiped clean. There’s only the tiniest trace of one plant left. She gets a name, though: Sveta Meyers. She’s the grad student who was working on this project. She left recently to take the rest of the semester off. Alex passes this information along to Turner, who says he’ll investigate her and see what he can find.
Then Turner and Alex go to the jail to interview Lance. They use the magic compact to make everyone think he’s Lance’s lawyer. And they use a potion Dawes works up to scramble the surveillance cameras. They have one hour in the private room to visit with him.
The new moon arrives so they can finally try to summon Darlington at Black Elm. The rite goes wrong somehow, though, and other ancestors appear and a monster tries to get into the circle. A deeper version of Darlington’s voice cries “murderer” or “murder.” Alex learns it was the hellbeast speaking in Darlington’s voice.
Alex won’t believe he’s truly because the Bridegroom can’t find him on the other side of the Veil. The night he disappeared, Darlington had been trying to tell her, “It’s not a portal; it’s a mouth.” That’s the M word he was trying to say before he was whisked away.
Alex discovers it was Blake who killed Tara. Blake comes to Il Bastone and knocks Dawes out. He chases and attacks Alex next. He’s using compulsion, so she can’t speak or act against his wishes. Alex somehow calls the hounds of Lethe with her mind.
Alex hears Dean Sandow come in downstairs. He tries to help but gets attacked by a dog. The dogs also attack Blake, but he’s still fighting back. He’s about to murder Alex when a recently awakened Dawes comes up from downstairs and bashes Blake’s head in with a bust. He dies.
Alex, Dawes, and Dean Sandow all end up in the hospital. Dawes goes home with her sister for a break and some rest. Alex has nowhere to go.
Since she won’t pay him attention anymore, the Bridegroom possesses Alex one day in class and writes down three dates from the 1800’s. Alex begins to investigate these dates and compares them with Darlington’s notes. She realizes that each of these dates mark the death of a young girl and a creation of one of the eight houses. She begins to suspect someone is trying to create another house.
How did Ninth House end?
Alex continues to investigate and ends up discovering Blake was under compulsion by Dean Sandow when he killed Tara. He’s also the one who sent Darlington to the beast and botched the efforts to bring him back. He did all of this for a large sum of money, which he needed after his recent divorce.
Alex goes to Belbalm’s party to confront Dean Sandow with others around. He admits to what he’s done. He pulls out compulsion powder to use on her. Alex calls to the Bridegroom to let him possess her body once again. Belbalm walks in, and Dean Sandow appeals to her for help.
Belbalm shows her hand. She’s the latest body the soul of Daisy, the Bridegroom’s fiancé, has inhabited after she died. She was the one who was interested in the ghosts and their potential all those years ago and summoned one to the room the day she died. She wasn’t sure what to do with it, so she sent it into the Bridegroom’s body. She’s killed many times to assume new bodies since then.
Belbalm kills Dean Sandow with her touch. With no other logical explanation, his death is deemed a heart attack.
At Sandow’s funeral, Alex talks with Michelle, who had served as Darlington’s Virgil. She tells them she thinks she found Darlington on a recent journey to the borderlands. A hellhound was sent to kill him, but she thinks it flung him to the “other side” instead. Alex heard something in the borderlands she couldn’t understand at first but now believes it to be “gentleman demon.” She invites her to help Alex and Dawes rescue Darlington from hell.
The Eight Houses:
Skull & Bones – practices divination using human and animal entrails
Scroll & Key – practices portal magic as well as astral and etheric projection
Book & Snake – practices necromancy and bone conjuring
Wolf’s Head – practices therianthropy (shapeshifting, especially into animals)
Manuscript – practices mirror magic and glamours
Aurelian – practices word binding and divination through language
St. Elmo’s – practices elemental magic and storm calling
Berzelius – founded in the tradition of its namesake, a Swedish chemist who created a new system of chemical notation that left the secrecy of alchemists in the past
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