Book Review: ‘Hell Bent’ by Leigh Bardugo

Dark, complex and enthralling!

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Book Title: Hell Bent
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Gollancz
Number of Pages: 496
ISBN: 978-1473228023
Date Published: Jan. 10, 2023
Price: INR 559

Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo Book Cover

Book Review

After a long wait since the debut of Leigh Bardugo’s famous dark academic fantasy novel “Ninth House,” readers were anxious to see if the sequel could live up to their high expectations. “Hell Bent” not only meets but exceeds those expectations with a conceptually larger plot, multidimensional characters, terrifying evil hiding in the affluent society of New England, and razor-sharp wit.

This exhilarating sequel throws both the heroine and the readers into a nonstop, tension-filled adventure that takes them from the depths of Yale’s past to the gates of Hell itself.

Building on its predecessor, “Hell Bent” starts up many months after the events of “Ninth House.” Alex Stern, now known as the Virgil of Lethe, is charged with monitoring magic use among Yale’s covert organizations. As she studies the Ninth House’s past and seeks a method to bring her mentor Darlington back from Hell, she faces the perpetual strain of serving many masters.

Along with her issues, she must negotiate her lessons, deal with the voices of the Greys (ghosts) that only she can see, and confront her old boss, Eitan Harel, who seeks to use her supernatural powers.

Alex sets off on her mission to find the enigmatic Gauntlet with a bunch of equally shattered misfits. Pamela Dawes, the research-driven Oculus of Lethe, shares Darlington’s worst loss. Abel Turner, a disturbed New Haven officer, is burdened by his mistakes in the past. Tripp Helmuth, a third-generation Bonesman, has gotten himself into a pickle.

Alex’s innocent flatmate, Mercy Zhao, is captivated by the otherworldly. As they deal with the dangers they’re ready to take to save Darlington, learn the truth, and safeguard their community from sinister threats, the interactions between these characters are brilliantly done. Given their traits, the situations involving these people might look like a misfit team.

Author Leigh built these complicated characters that appear greedy while yet being saviors in her earlier book(s). On the other hand, Alex Stern remains a prickly and challenging protagonist, but her persistent resolve and dedication to the people she loves come through. While she encourages her partners to make risky decisions, she never asks them to confront something she wouldn’t face herself.

One of the novel’s strengths is the friendships established among this bunch of misfits. Readers are given insights inside the brains of other significant characters for the first time, revealing their motivations, feelings, and secret depths. Dawes and Detective Turner, in particular, stand out for their gripping stories.

Compared to her Grishaverse fantasy novels, Leigh Bardugo’s Alex Stern series dives into more mature topics and ethically complex problems. The characters are all shades of grey, and the book explores the dark side of magic and human nature without fear. “Hell Bent” reminds readers that every victory requires painful sacrifices, from horrible murders and gory spells to otherworldly beings and the underlying evil lurking in Yale’s history.

The story also challenges the privilege inherent in Yale’s milieu, where the affluent and connected frequently avoid accountability for their acts. This allows viewers to investigate each character’s grey morality.

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Like “Ninth House,” this suspenseful and cliffhanger-filled novel finishes with a critical point, laying the stage for an anticipated third and maybe final volume. While the finale isn’t about life or death, it does promise a dramatic sequel that will make a lasting impression on the worlds of Lethe and New Haven. Traditional happy endings appear improbable for these tenacious survivors, who may seek healing rather than conventional conclusions.

In conclusion, “Hell Bent” takes readers on a dark and fascinating trip into Yale’s sinister underbelly. Leigh Bardugo’s superb narrative and examination of complicated people shine throughout the tale. With its engaging narrative and moral quandaries, It’s a well-written, exciting, and thought-provoking read that I would strongly suggest to dark fantasy enthusiasts.