Hell Bent

by Leigh Bardugo

I have a confession to make.

I actually love dark fantasy fiction, particularly stuff that offers an interpretation of worlds ‘beyond the Veil’ and who or what might inhabit those worlds. 

Leigh Bardugo proposes a sort of an explanation for that kind of fascination in her new book, Hell Bent (New York, Flatiron Books, 2023). But there’s so much else to keep your attention that you could read the whole thing without necessarily tuning in to that — although it is the developmental pivot that set one of her characters on his path.

Hell Bent  is the second book in the Alex Stern series, following The Ninth House. The premise is that the student societies at Yale have a secret, sinister purpose, and Lethe, the Ninth House, was founded to police the other ‘Ancient Eight.’ That had me hooked from the beginning. The societies are so secretive that only a very select few know their true purpose. I won’t say any more; you’ll have to read it to discover it yourself.

I wish I could write like this! I could almost believe that the author must have participated in some arcane magic herself.

All the characters from the first book are here… in one form or another. Apparently no one truly dies in these books, with two notable exceptions. As the story barrels, ‘hell bent’, towards its climax, Bardugo lets us inside the characters’ heads — literally. By the end of the book, they will know more about one another than they are completely comfortable knowing.

Darlington, the urbane ‘gentleman of Lethe,’ who disappeared in The Ninth House, swallowed by a hellbeast. Dawes, the retiring, practically invisible Oculus, without whom all the rest would be sunk. Turner, the irritable but indispensable police detective. Hapless, directionless Tripp Helmuth, who, like a faithful Labrador retriever, proves invaluable in a manner that none of the others expect. Mercy, who has spent her entire life enduring the ordinary. And Alex Stern, who becomes more faceted and and fascinating with every page. Each of these characters is damaged in some way, but together they complete one another, becoming something greater than the whole.

Similar in tone to Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, Hell Bent  is an epic battle, and I could not get enough. I can’t wait for the next instalment!

Now… I really should get back to work.

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