- First published in 2019 by Flatiron Books
- Format: Audiobook
- Narrator: Lauren Fortgang and Michael David Axtell
- Listening Speed: 1.7x
- Listening Time: 5 impatient days
- Leigh Bardugo has never disappointed me before so I had no hesitation in picking up her first adult novel in an Audible sale and slotting that into my New Year’s Resolutions Reading Challenge. This book follows Galaxy ‘Alex’ Stern, a person whom no one who knew her in Los Angeles would ever be attending Yale. She dropped out of high school, fell in with the wrongest of crowds and, by twenty, she became the sole survivor of a multiple, unsolved homicide. So, how did she get into Yale? Because she has a gift that the secret society, ‘Lethe’, needs in order for them to monitor all the other secret societies knocking around. So, under the tutelage of ‘Darlington’, Alex takes on strange and often frightening duties that take her to some very dark places.
- Original take on ghosts or ‘greys’. Their deterrents turn out to be very unusual and they can be terrifying but probably not for the reasons one would expect. I know the book builds on greys a bit later on and I wish I had got that far as they probably would have been a point of interest.
- Not connecting with Darlington at all. Compared to Alex, he came across as snobby, uncaring and, above all, uninteresting. If I saw a few more signs of him trying to overcome his upbringing and trying to see beyond his privilege, I might have been more inclined to like him. As it was, Alex is definitely the better main character. Her backstory slowly unfolds and gets more horrifying as the book goes on. From what I read, we also start to see her opening her horizons a little. Now she’s in a position with room to live and not just survive, we see her starting to think of the future and what she really wants for the first time. That character arc alone could have held up this story easily.
- Good twist on the child prodigy being watched from afar until she was ready. Far from being upset that the secret world interrupted her life when they did, Alex is upset that they didn’t interrupt it sooner and save her an awful lot of hardship and trauma. It’s certainly an original and dark take on the ‘chosen one with enviable powers from birth’ trope.
- Warning – this book does contain an explicit description of attempted rape on a minor. It took me completely off guard and was one of the reasons I was turned off this book. In fact, from what I managed to listen to, it might be easier to think of trigger warnings that don’t apply to this book rather than the ones that do.
- I don’t think the switching timeline/POV trick worked in this book’s favour. It made the book very unfocussed and slow. I think it might have been better if it had been told completely in the present to keep everything more focussed, especially as the past segments seemed to serve no purpose other than to info dump and waste time. It’s tricky to do POV changes and timeline changes at the same time in one story and, in this case, it didn’t work.
- Not that enthused with the secret society plotlines. It smacks of conspiracy theory which is definitely losing its savour for me. The secret societies themselves are all given their own history and their own specialities. Unfortunately, all of that information is delivered in slow info-dumps, which was the book’s biggest downfall. Not to mention, once you peeled away the dark mystery veil, you find the societies are just rich boy clubs full of high-fliers dabbling in the occult for benefit and just because they can. They all rather lose their appeal after that. If it was written differently, that could be really funny but it just didn’t land right in this book.
- Didn’t really appreciate the references to classical literature. It felt a bit pretentious and Bardugo seemed to hint that she knew that. I think she tried to make it self-aware but didn’t quite manage it.
- Entirely fed up with how slow this story is going. About six hours in, I was dreading the prospect of turning the audiobook back on and listening to the plot meander about between past and present, being unable to decide whether something should actually happen. There was a good action scene about six hours in but it was too little, too late for me.
- DNFing because I just don’t have the patience for this book anymore. I looked up the plot summary online just to see if it was worth sticking it out but I’m honestly not sure I can stand another ten hours of info dumping and time wasting. This is a bitter disappointment indeed. I never thought I would be DNFing a book written by the same person who wrote Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows.
Goodreads Rating (DNF at 38%): ⭐️⭐️
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