From the author of Ninth House, another tale of murder and dark magic set among the Ivy League elite. Galaxy "Alex" Stern is determined to break Darlington out of hell-even if it costs her a future at Lethe and at Yale. But Alex is playing with forces far beyond her control, and when faculty members begin to die off, she knows these aren't just accidents.
The first section of Hell Bent feels a bit raggedy and frantic, with murders, drug deals and a vampiric encounter, among other things, though the details that accrue will be relevant later. But once the ritual commences, the book seizes you by the shoulders and won’t let you go ... Fantasy is not for everyone, and to love this book, which I did, you have to let yourself be carried along by the joy and playfulness mixed with the darkness.
Hell Bent is just as outrageously good as Ninth House, if not better. Ninth House, like most fantasy novels kicking off a new series, bore a heavy load of exposition; Hell Bent benefits from the foundation its predecessor already laid ... There’s much to love here and very little to dislike. Occasionally, there’s a detail that feels like the work of a writer celebrating her freedom from the restrictions of writing for a young adult audience; if there was a reason for a particular supernatural character to sport a glowing erection, I must have missed it. But analytical fantasy readers, breathless fangirls, and those of us who fit both categories... will happily follow Alex into Hell.
Hell Bent is a great “hell heist”, as one of the characters puts it, but it doesn’t have anything meaningful to say about anything. Alex and the others touch on grief and fighting back against one’s abusers, but these are personal demons not systemic oppressions. Where Ninth House had a thesis statement, Hell Bent comes off more like a popcorn movie ... Even though it didn’t scratch the same itch the first book did, Hell Bent is an entertaining novel that I generally enjoyed. As a dark fantasy, it’s fun and frightening in equal measure. The worldbuilding is spectacular and the characters are all kinds of intriguing ... [Bardugo] is both heavy handed and too superficial ... Without even knowing who the author was, it would be immediately apparent that a white person wrote this book. The characters of color lack an awareness, a sense of lived experience, an understanding of how they sit inside and outside of their community. What is it like being a biracial Latina at an ivy league? This series not only doesn’t have an answer but hasn’t even asked the question.