Rejoice, Bardugo fans and dark academia lovers: You’ll get much more of the spooky stuff you crave in the extraordinary Hell Bent.
After her first brush with the dark underworld of Yale University—in this world, the school’s infamous secret societies are called houses, and their members are practitioners of magic—Alex Stern deserves a sabbatical. But as firmly established in author Leigh Bardugo’s excellent Ninth House, Alex isn’t built for rest, especially when there’s still work to do. Alex is a member of Lethe, the ninth house, which monitors the other houses to make sure they don’t go too far. She’s capable and cantankerous, but in Hell Bent she’s also desperate. Darlington, the wunderkind of Lethe, Alex’s mentor and maybe something more, is gone, presumed dead after the events of Ninth House. Alex vows to bring him back to the world of the living, but things are never that simple in New Haven, Connecticut.
Without Darlington to guide her and back her up, Alex is overwhelmed and vulnerable, which makes each new challenge she faces even more riveting for the reader. She’s already investigating a series of strange murders of faculty members, and to make matters worse, Alex and her friend Dawes make a horrific discovery in Darlington’s family home: a demonic presence, restrained by magic—for now. Together, they must find a way to bring Darlington back while keeping whatever’s in his house from being unleashed on the world. Can Alex survive all that Hell and Yale throw at her?
Once again, Bardugo shows she’s one of the best world builders in the business. Her version of Yale and its people is so richly rendered, it’s difficult to tell what’s real and what’s imagined. Not a page goes by without a line from Yeats or a fact about the architectural history of New Haven or a bit of biblical allusion. And yet, the book whizzes along, marvelously balancing these details with The Da Vinci Code-esque clue-hunting, demonic rituals and lectures from a particularly uptight school administrator.
Gut-wrenching and deeply human, this book will tug at your heartstrings even as it chills you to the bone. In spite of all of its magic, world building and shenanigans, Hell Bent stays true to its characters, never compromising them for the sake of genre thrills or expectations. Standing head and shoulders above the already impressive Ninth House, Hell Bent is one of the best fantasy novels of the year.