Well guys, it’s been a minute since I’ve written a review. I don’t feel quite ready to do a deep dive into a full length review for either of these (I also waited a little too long since I read them before sitting down to do this and didn’t take good reading notes, so I’m a little blurry on the details.) Still, I really thought both of these were phenomenal for entirely different reasons; I fully expected to love Ninth House because I love Leigh Bardugo and everything she does, and I was really pleasantly surprised by The Beautiful. Without further ado, let’s get into what I thought about these books! Just a note: the last paragraph of my thoughts on The Beautiful contains some spoiler-y stuff, although I keep it really vague. Just be aware it’s there!
NINTH HOUSE by Leigh Bardugo
Like I said above, I pretty much knew I was going to love this even before I started this. Bardugo is one of my all-time favorite authors, I had friends who read this before me and loved it, and so much of the book community raved about it. (Funny, I’m just now looking at reviews on Goodreads and seeing a lot of disappointment.) That’s quite a bit of hype to live up to, and I will admit I was a little nervous about it falling short. Fortunately, it met pretty much all of my expectations. I don’t think it’s my favorite book by Bardugo (that title probably still goes to Crooked Kingdom), but I loved this venture into a more adult genre, and I sincerely hope she writes more adult novels.
So what did I love about this? Really, just about everything. I thought Alex was a phenomenal character, with flaws and a tragic past and doesn’t always do the right thing. She’s not exactly what you would call a likeable character, but honestly I am so sick of characters (and especially female ones) having to fit a certain mold in order for them to be liked or to be a good character. Characters don’t need to be perfect or likeable in order to be bold, interesting and good. In fact, I’d rather they weren’t any of those things, and I think we start to Alex’s growth in this book, and I think there’s so much more that she can learn and do in the future. I don’t think she’s as fully fleshed-out as she could be, but, given the fact that there’s a sequel, I wasn’t as annoyed or frustrated by that as I usually am. I also just generally have a lot of faith in Bardugo’s capacity to write captivating sequels, so maybe I was reading this as more of a set-up for whatever happens in the next book. Am I setting myself up for disappointment by doing that? Maybe. But I still really enjoyed this book.
I will admit that I was a little confused throughout maybe the first half of the novel. The setup for the novel’s fantasy elements didn’t seem as thorough as they could’ve been, and there were moments where I just had no idea what was going on or what was being talked about. I was reading an e-book version, so I didn’t realize there was a glossary until I had finished the book, so maybe that would have helped a little. Once I got the hang of the Houses, though, it became more straightforward and I followed everything that much easier. I also think it kind of adds to both the book’s atmosphere and Alex’s character that not everything about the houses and the magic, since the book really comes across as a dark, fantastical mystery and since Alex herself is so unsure of everything, especially early on. Still, I think both of these elements could have been maintained in a way that leaves the reader a little less confused. Ninth House also just generally starts off a little slow, so it took me a while to get into it, which probably didn’t help my level of confusion, since I can handle frustration/confusion/mystery if I’m invested. Once the book picked up, though, it really picked up and I loved every minute of it.
As for the characters, I thought both Darlington and Dawes were pretty criminally underutilized. Everyone seems to love Darlington, and I think they should. But he’s also a bit Mr. Perfect, which grated on my nerves just a little, but as we learn more about him, we learn that’s not necessarily the case. I can get behind a character that starts off seeming perfect and then loses some of that as the book progresses. I thought getting so many Darlington-centric chapters was a really clever and added an extra dimension to the book that I didn’t expect. And, really, I just loved Dawes and wanted to see more of her. She was so quick and clever and done with all of Alex’s bullshit yet was there to support her no matter what happened, and I absolutely adored their dynamic, especially as it progressed.
THE BEAUTIFUL by Renee Ahedieh
When Renee Ahdieh announced that she had a new book coming out and that it was about vampires, I thought I was going to pass on it. I’ve never been a huge fan of vampire media (I was deep in a middle school “I hate everything that’s popular” phase when Twilight was at its peak and then never found a different vampire/supernatural creatures-based series that clicked with me), so I thought this wouldn’t be for me. I can’t actually tell you precisely why I picked it up. I think it’s because I enjoy Ahdieh’s books, although I don’t think I’ve ever been head over heals for one. But I gave it a shot, and I’m really glad I did.
What surprised me most about The Beautiful was how quickly I got invested in it. It actually takes quite a while for the action to come to a head, yet I didn’t really notice that I wasn’t getting a lot of action. I was already halfway done with the novel before I realized nothing really big had happened yet. Usually I am so quick to say, “where’s the action???” and dislike that I haven’t gotten any once I’m a third of the way through, but it really didn’t bother me this time, and I can’t really pinpoint why. I think maybe I knew that because it has a vampire plotline something big and important was bound to happen and was willing to wait for it. I didn’t know what to expect, and that made me all the more interested in what was going to happen.
With that being said, I really thought the delay of action really let the characters shine (as they usually do in Ahdieh’s books). Celine is amazing, as are Odette and Pippa. The female characters were really the stars in this book, and they totally deserve it. While I was a little frustrated with some of Celine’s brooding, I don’t think it was a dealbreaker for her characters. She’s been through some shit; let her brood. Odette is really just an icon, and Pippa is such a sweet best friend and foil to Celine. The male characters were a bit meh (except Arjun. I want more Arjun.) and I probably could have done without the growing love triangle, but I really did think the female characters made up for their failings, especially because they are more central to the story. There was a little bit of insta-love that I don’t dig, but it also seemed like it was more insta-fascination? I don’t know how much of a difference that makes over the whole course of the novel, but it did make me feel a little less annoyed by it.
Like Ninth House, the atmosphere and aesthetic of The Beautiful was really what sold me. Ahdieh’s writing is always beautiful and descriptive, and it really helped the story along. It was a grat balance of darkness and levity that really matched the story and added so much to it. I really enjoyed the seamless integration of languages other than English (and a good excuse to practice the Spanish I haven’t studied in 5 years and the French I’m very slowly learning at the moment), although I do wonder if I would’ve thought differently if I had been reading a hard copy and not an e-book where I was able to just highlight the text and get the translation in seconds. I do think Ahdieh does a fine job of giving you the gist of what is said and so you don’t need the exact translation, I just always wanted to know exactly what is said, when it’s said because I’m impatient and curious.
The last thing is really enjoyed is a pretty big spoiler, although I won’t use any names and keep it really vague, you’ll probably want to avert your eyes from this paragraph if you haven’t read the book! Okay, ready? I really liked the twist of who the main villain was. I admit that I did see it coming relatively early, but mabye that was the point I was supposed to guess? All I know is that I wasn’t surprised when the big reveal happened. What I really loved about the villain and the reveal was how Ahdieh manipulated our expectations of who the villain was, namely that it had to be a male. That’s so often the case in media and in supernatural media, and the way she simultaneously coded the antagonist as male through their perspective without ever actually explicitly stating it was so clever. I don’t know if other people think the same, but I definitely found myself assuming the antagonist had to be male, which really limits your guesses for who it actually is and is a big diversion in the mystery of it all.
I was really pleasantly surprised by both of these books, although The Beautiful was definitely a bigger surprise than Ninth House. I definitely recommend both of these novels, especially if you like a darker atmosphere and aesthetic and a bit of mystery.
Have you read either of these books? What did you think? What books have surprised you recently?