Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Galaxy Stern’s ability to see ghosts has haunted her since she was a child. She tries to escape this by running away, but years later she is found barely alive at a crime scene where four of her associates are dead. She is offered admission to Yale University and to a secret society called Lethe that regulates the use of magic in the university and around the mysterious town of New Haven. But when her mentor, her Virgil, Darlington disappears, it is up to her to fill his shoes and to investigate a local murder, seemingly unrelated to the societies.
This book is different from anything I’ve read by Leigh Bardugo before (she is my favorite author, so I have read all of her previous books), but it still has that typical way of Bardugo’s: a dark, deceptive setting, a feeling that something is not right, and the insistent tug that captured my attention straight from the start. Alex Stern is an unreliable narrator, just like Kaz was in Six of Crows- there is something she is not telling us, and we, the readers, just have to go along on the suspense ride until she decides to reveal it.
This book jumps between perspectives and time, alternating between the present and the past to slowly provide the pieces to put the story together. It was a little confusing in the beginning, but it made more sense when the information was given later. I have heard from some people that the beginning is kind of slow, and while I agree that most of the chapters, in the beginning, are to help provide context for the rest of the story, I found the background interesting enough to read it quickly! The plot is slow in the beginning, but the unique setting and characters were enough to grab my attention. The plot definitely picks up a little while into the story, and it made me glad for all the descriptions in the beginning. I have not read a book this fast in a while! I had the audiobook and the ePub for this book, and (when I wasn’t driving or baking) I found that using both formats at the same time created an extremely immersive experience.
Talking about two perspectives: Alex and Darlington are very different people, so it was really cool to see their individual personalities and opinions of each other come through in their separate POVs. Darlington’s voice was a treat, considering that he was missing in the present tense storyline. He gave me a refined, dark academia vibe, while Alex was more of a reckless, violent, do-anything-to-survive kinda gal. Also there are some great side characters (Dawes and Turner <3)!
One important topic that Bardugo addresses is privilege and how people use it. People who have money and power tend to abuse it. Galaxy was less fortunate, she ran away from home, had to drop out of school and never had enough food to eat before coming to Yale. Because of her background, Alex is nobody, and she would be easily taken advantage of if she wasn’t extra tough to prevent it. Several events happen in the book, where most characters turned a blind eye toward the victims. It was okay for some people to be treated horribly because they were “town”, poor, uneducated, or a minority. Alex Stern refused to accept this. One reason I loved her is her determination to ensure that those victims got justice, no exceptions for the privilege of the perpetrators. With her background, Alex is out of place at the pretentious, high-flying Yale community, and she has to choose between keeping her head down and blending in, or risking it all to fight for justice. While Alex’s techniques may be crude, she does not back down, using the full extent of her power in her fight.
The magic system in this book is so different from anything else I’ve read! Each of the eight secret societies at Yale has its own special powers and items. These items are powerful, and they are used by Alex and her enemies. It really showed how the power itself was not inherently good or bad, but rather it depended on the wielder. Lethe, the ninth house- the one responsible for monitoring the others, is extremely necessary to keep this power from falling into the wrong hands.
When I was reading the “about the author,” I found it really cool that Bardugo had actually studied at and graduated from Yale herself. I believe her experiences and research into the city made the narrative feel more authentic.
One thing I have to address: unlike Bardugo’s other books, this one is for an adult audience and not YA. There is more mention of drugs, sex, profanity and violence in this book
Trigger warning: multiple mentions of rape.
This book is definitely more serious, and some scenes were difficult to read. I still highly recommend this book, but make sure you know you will be able to handle the darker parts.