Quick Review: NINTH HOUSE by Leigh Bardugo (Flatiron/Gollancz)

BardugoL-AS1-NinthHouseUSHCAn intriguing first novel, in an intricately realized setting

Alex Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. A dropout and the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved crime — the last thing she wants is to cause trouble. Not when Yale was supposed to be her fresh start. But a free ride to one of the world’s most prestigious universities was bound to come with a catch.

Alex has been tasked with monitoring the mysterious activities of Yale’s secret societies — societies that have yielded some of the most famous and influential people in the world. Now there’s a dead girl on campus and Alex seems to be the only person who won’t accept the neat answer the police and campus administration have come up with for her murder.

Because Alex knows the secret societies are far more sinister and extraordinary than anyone ever imagined.

They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And, sometimes, they prey on the living…

This novel received a lot of buzz in the lead up to publication. This often makes me a little nervous. Nevertheless, I thought the synopsis sounded really interesting — it looked like it might have The Magicians vibes about it (a series by Lev Grossman that I loved). After reading this, I think that impression was correct, although I would stress that this is very much its own thing. Ninth House was a fascinating urban fantasy/campus novel mash-up. I enjoyed this, and I’m now really looking forward to book two. Continue reading

Review: IF WE WERE VILLAINS by M.L. Rio (Flatiron/Titan)

An excellent literary thriller

Oliver Marks has just served ten years in jail – for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the man who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened a decade ago.

As one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But when the casting changes, and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.

M.L. Rio’s debut novel turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. The writing is excellent, the story is gripping, and the characters are varied, realistic and engaging. An easy, early contender for best novel lists. I very much enjoyed this. Continue reading