Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo: An amazing sequel

Ninth House sequel, Hell Bent, Leigh Bardugo’s new adult-fantasy novel featuring Alex Stern, has definitely been worth the wait. Read my full review.

Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo, Review - Alex Stern 2
Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo

Hell Bent Book Synopsis

Alex Stern, Book 2

Wealth. Power. Murder. Magic. Alex Stern is back and the Ivy League is going straight to hell.

Find a gateway to the underworld. Steal a soul out of hell. A simple plan, except people who make this particular journey rarely come back. But Galaxy “Alex” Stern is determined to break Darlington out of purgatory―even if it costs her a future at Lethe and at Yale.

Forbidden from attempting a rescue, Alex and Dawes can’t call on the Ninth House for help, so they assemble a team of dubious allies to save the gentleman of Lethe. Together, they will have to navigate a maze of arcane texts and bizarre artifacts to uncover the societies’ most closely guarded secrets, and break every rule doing it. But when faculty members begin to die off, Alex knows these aren’t just accidents. Something deadly is at work in New Haven, and if she is going to survive, she’ll have to reckon with the monsters of her past and a darkness built into the university’s very walls.

Thick with history and packed with Leigh Bardugo’s signature twists, Hell Bent brings to life an intricate world full of magic, violence, and all too real monsters.

(Goodreads, January 2023)

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Drama, Action-Adventure, Thriller

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Book Review

I’ll answer the big questions first…. Does Hell Bent live up to to all the hype and expectation? Has it been worth the wait? … Yes and yes.

If you have not read Book 1 in the Alex Stern series, Ninth House (links to my 5-star review), should you do so before attempting this sequel? … Absolutely. Leigh Bardugo’s world-building is so detailed and her character development so layered and nuanced, there is no way a few backstory references can do all that we learned in Book 1 justice.

I was raring to go into battle with Alex and her posse as I cracked the spine on Hell Bent, so was initially perturbed by the fact that more time had passed since the end of Book 1 than I’d expected. I also found the yo-yo-ing present and reflective narrative perspectives Bardugo opens with a little disconcerting… But persist like I did and the rewards will be ten-fold. As this instalment unfolds she demonstrates once again that she is the ultimate puppet-master.

Where to go from a bestselling Book 1?

While the history-steeped New Haven and Yale campus remain character-settings in their own right, in Hell Bent Bardugo really dials up her character development efforts (and compelling backstories) on those with mortal appearance.

Alex Stern is of course as feisty and spiky as ever,

“This isn’t healthy. I can only feign sincerity for so long before I rupture something.”

but the colourful ensemble cast (Dawes, Turner, Mercy etc) get lots more airtime in this instalment, to wonderful effect.

Yes, there are multiple strands to the again ambitious story arc, but they, along with the character group are woven progressively tighter. The result, a far stronger dramatic skein in Hell Bent… a sizzling tension-filled, and in places, overtly adult yarn.

“You rescue me. I rescue you. That’s how this works. To pay your debts, you had to know who you owed. You had to decide who you were willing to go to war for and who you trusted to jump into the fray for you. That was all there was in this world. No heroes or villains, just the people you’d brave the waves for, and the ones you’d let drown.” 

This series is particularly difficult to discuss while avoiding spoilers. Suffice to say though, in Hell Bent Leigh Bardugo somehow manages to pull a rabbit out of her hat — ‘keeping it real’ while giving fans much of what we want.

So, what tops the 5-star rating I gave to Ninth House? It’s called Hell Bent.

BOOK RATING: The Story 5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5

Get your copy of Hell Bent (Alex Stern #2) from:

Bookshop US Amazon Booktopia AU In Audio

Update: We now also highly recommend Leigh Bardugo’s latest novel The Familiar set in the Spanish Golden Age.

More Hell Bent reviews

“Vivid, intelligent, and funny at just the right moments, but best of all are the complex characters.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Hell Bent is everything fans of Bardugo’s Alex Stern series could have asked for: It’s thematically richer, its characters are more complexly rendered, the darkness lurking at the edges of its New England-set world of privilege is more frightening, and its wit more biting.” — Paste Magazine

“Gut-wrenching and deeply human, this book will tug at your heartstrings even as it chills you to the bone…. Standing head and shoulders above the already impressive Ninth House, Hell Bent is one of the best fantasy novels of the year..” BookPage (starred reviewed)

“The taut plot, often grisly magic, lavish scene-setting, and wry humor combine to make this just as un-put-downable as the first installment. Readers will be wowed.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

More book quotes from Hell Bent

“The problem wasn’t books and fairy tales, just that they told half the story, offering up the illusion of a world where only the villains paid in blood, the ogre stepmothers, the wicked stepsisters, where magic was just and without sacrifice.” 

Hell Bent Book Quote - "That was the problem with love. It was hard to unlearn, no matter how harsh the lesson." - Leigh Bardugo
Hell Bent – Book Quote

“She read paperbacks too, one after the next like she was chain-smoking—romance, science fiction, old pulp fantasy. All she wanted to do was sit, unbothered in a circle of lamplight, and live someone else’s life.” 

“She was more beautiful than he remembered. No, that wasn’t true. It wasn’t that she had changed or that his vision had sharpened. He was just less afraid of her beauty now.”

About the Author, Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and the creator of the Grishaverse (now a Netflix series) which spans the Shadow and Bone trilogy, the Six of Crows duologyThe Language of Thorns, and the King of Scars duology—with more to come. Her other works include Wonder Woman: Warbringer, Ninth House (Goodreads Choice Winner for Best Fantasy 2019) and its sequel Hell Bent. She lives in Los Angeles and is an Associate Fellow of Pauli Murray College at Yale University. Check out her website and connect with her on Twitter.