• The Good: Secret occult societies a Yale and ghosts!
  • The Bad: Alternately dull and overly grotesque. Multiple trigger warnings needed here.
  • The Literary: Plenty of Dante references, as is appropriate

Galaxy “Alex” Stern does not belong at Yale University. She’s a high school dropout drug addict who ran away from home. But when she wakes in the hospital as the sole survivor of an unsolved multiple homicide, a stranger offers her a unique opportunity. When she arrives in New Haven, Connecticut, Alex doesn’t really fit in at the prestigious university, and worse, she is tasked by her mysterious benefactor with spying on Yale’s secret societies and their occult activities.

I like how this book writes class, both from the perspective of the poor kid whose been beaten down by the world so much that every good thing comes with a catch, and from the rich kid, who doesn’t understand why others don’t take advantage of every opportunity. And don’t forget about the rich white boys with unchecked privilege who commit terrible acts.

I really enjoy the advantage that Alex has over the others kids interested in the occult—she sees ghosts. She doesn’t need drugs to see them; in fact, she’s seen them nearly her whole life. This asset opens all sorts of doors for how the plot could unfold, and Bardugo takes advantage. Then there’s the world-building, except that it’s not fantasy, it’s largely true. There really are secret societies like the Skull and Bones, and the Scroll and Key, with powerful, rich, and influential members, including United States Presidents. When a young girl from town is murdered, Alex wants justice, and determines to find out who is responsible. And she has good reason, because she sees her dead friend from home in that girls’ face.

With all these rich ideas, I am surprised by how much the story didn’t wow me. The writing is surprisingly aloof. The dialogue is minimal and therefore the characters feel disconnected. The story is surprisingly dull. All of the potential of the setting and motivations do not an interesting book make. Maybe it just isn’t for me.

“Mors irrumat omnia. Death fucks us all.”