Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?
Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.
Holy crap I loved this book. It was one of those all-consuming reads, where you have that twitch to get back to it if you’re doing something else, and even when you are doing something else, all you can think about is the story. Where you find yourself wondering about the characters, the magic, the setting. And you can’t help but think what you would do if you knew about the world Alex Stern lives in.
One of my favorite elements of this story was the magic. It wasn’t simple, wasn’t easy. They didn’t have magic wands they flicked around or incantations they said to make impossible things happen. Instead, there were rules. Components were needed. Precise timings with precise ingredients and precise words spoken aloud. None of it came easily. It was truly a practice to be studied and mastered.
I absolutely eat up any magic systems like that.
There’s just something about it being difficult to do, and close to impossible to master, that makes it feel realer for me. After all, it’s difficult to learn how to design a website or diagnose a human body’s ailments. Why should magic be simple?
Pairing that dedicated study of magic with undergrads was absolutely brilliant. There’s nothing like a college kid, old enough to not be seen as a child but still too young to have any kind of meaningful experiences (most of the time, at least). Giving them the keys to some of the most dangerous and powerful magical houses and abilities was a recipe for disaster from the start–but a necessary one. Youth has stamina and resiliency, making them the best ones to practice magic in Bardugo’s imagining of Yale.
Even the characters drew me in, their flaws and needs defining and driving their actions. I loved that Alex wasn’t your cookie-cutter heroine, or that any of the players on this particular stage were given one dimensional roles. There was depth in each person, in each interaction, and that rounded out a truly wonderful story. I give this book a solid 5 out of 5 stars.