Ninth House: A Book Review and Tour of New Haven

When Dex and I were waiting for our train to New York, we noticed an advertisement for a book called Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (also author of the popular young adult series and Netflix show Shadow and Bone). The ad featured a quote by Stephen King, who called the book the best fantasy novel he's read in years, and mentioned how the book centered on New Haven. Intrigued, I wrote down the name of the book to eventually check out. Fast forward a week later, I grabbed a copy of the book from our local library and immediately proceeded to consume the book in two days.

Right after I finished, Dexter took possession of the book and finished in three days. We were captivated by the dark magical plot and giddy over the fact that the entire story took place in New Haven, referencing the street names and places we were becoming familiar with ourselves.

Ninth House centers on a Yale University freshman Galaxy "Alex" Stern, a high school drop-out and homicide survivor who can see ghosts, called "grays." Alex is mysteriously offered a full-ride to Yale, working for Lethe (the ninth house) and tasked with monitoring the eight Houses of the Veil, which are secret societies at Yale that harbor dark occult magic and power.

One of the best things about the book is that real history is interwoven with the plot. Dex and I had a lot of fun trying to parse through what was fact or fiction. One of the major focus of the book is on Yale's secret societies, which all actually exist. In reality, each secret society is small with membership often capped at 15 senior undergrads per society. These societies also have some impressive alumni. For example, Skull and Bones' alumni include President William Howard Taft, President George H.W. Bush, President George W. Bush, and former Secretary of State John Kerry.

The major societies have their own clubhouses, similar to fraternities, which are called tombs (some actually do look like tombs). No signs are displayed on these buildings so you really have to know what you're looking at ahead of time.

Because Ninth House focuses on a specific set of secret societies as displayed on the map above, Dex and I decided to take another tour of New Haven to locate these tombs.

Here's Dex posing in front of Skull & Bones. In the book, Skull & bones dabbles in divination using human and animal entrails. To be honest, we weren't as impressed with this building, but maybe it was because the construction work off to the side ruined the look for us.
Next up is Wolf's Head, which looked more secretive to us given the stone gate surrounding the entire building. Leigh Bardugo was actually part of this society herself when she studied at Yale. In the book, Wolf's Head specialized in therianthropy (otherwise known as shapeshifting into animals).
We attempted to find St. Elmo Society. Apparently they used to occupy another more impressive building before Yale decided to take back the building. St. Elmo ultimately moved to a place on Lynwood. We had a hard time figuring out which was St. Elmo (they all looked like apartment buildings) and was going to settle with just taking a picture of the neighborhood...
Then after googling for a bit, we finally discovered St. Elmo was actually this building. In Ninth House, St. Elmo specializes in elemental magic and storm calling.
Manuscript society. This was my favorite building given how secretive the building looks (it's just made up of white brick walls with a door on the side). If you look closely, you’ll see it’s not a typical white brick wall, but there’s actually a faint “O” right behind me. This mural was designed by an influential modernist architect and a renowned painter Josef Albers and King-Lui Wu. In the book, Manuscript was known for mirror magic and glamours.
Right across from the cemetery at Yale, you will find Book & Snake, which in Ninth House was known for necromancy and bone conjuring. This was the only tomb that actually had a sign with its name on it (though probably not on purpose as it was a construction sign). This was one of the more epic looking tomb with features that reflected its name (see the snakes on the gate).
Here's Dex using a small prop to give you a hint as to which tomb this is: Scroll & Key (known in the book for portal magic). The first time we saw this building when we moved here, we thought this was some sort of religious building. We were wrong.
The last society listed on the map was Berzelius. In the book, this society wasn't featured much and didn't have any magical powers. It was probably still listed on the map because they actually do have a building on campus. 

In addition to visiting the tombs, we threw in some extra site visits to other important places in the book:

In the book, Lethe has a few safe houses, one of which was called Il Bastone. In real life, the building's actual name is the Anderson Mansion, which was built in 1882 by John C. Anderson, the son of a wealthy New York tobacconist. The 17,000 square-foot mansion is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places and has served in the past as a school and office building. Per a quick google search, the mansion retains most of the original interior and exterior appointments characteristic of the Victorian-era French Second Empire style. (No magic was found surrounding the house, much to our disappointment).
See Dex posing like a model in front of Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. 
In the book, the top of this building houses another Lethe safehouse called the Hutch. In real life, we have no idea what's up there (we assume it's probably an apartment building). Again, no magic was found.

Jennifer Ta

Jennifer Ta