Book Review: “Hell Bent” by Leigh Bardugo

The Alex Stern-verse continues with the latest from Leigh Bardugo, Hell Bent. After the first book in the series, Ninth House, ended on such a massive cliffhanger readers needed this sequel yesterday. This series could not be further from Bardugo’s Grishaverse. Yet, the captivating character study of the dark side of academia remains as enthralling as ever.

Welcome to Hell

Hell has such potential as a setting. In Judaism, there isn’t strictly speaking one specific idea of what a version of hell could look like. Bardugo takes full advantage of this canvas and sends them to hell in the most loving and creative way. Alex is evidently still wrestling with the role she played in Darlington’s…predicament. Anyone who has ever spent an inordinate amount of time beating oneself up repeatedly over offences large and small will see themselves in this character.

The hell storyline is a brilliant way to underline the heart of this series. The focus on friendship, especially female friendships, is heartbreakingly beautiful. There is simply nothing like those bonds that form between women in their 20s, let loose on a College or University campus. These relationships are the definition of supportive. They may not last forever, but they have a lasting impact. 

Demons for Days

Darlington’s re-introduction combines humour and heartbreak in such a powerful way. There’s hardly a more perfect character to turn into a demon. Darlington has always had a frankly demonic energy since was introduced. This feels like his character coming full circle. Somehow, he has always had the demon inside him. 

Hell Bent succeeds in large part because the story doesn’t focus exclusively on Darlington’s transformation. Instead, he’s used as a vessel for other, better characters to come into their own. Darlington’s new state gives Alex the chance to really show off her leadership, and why she is best equipped to keep the secret societies of Yale in line. 

Where to Next? 

Where do you go after you’ve been to literal hell? This is the question Bardugo leaves readers to ponder. The possibilities are basically endless. If this story is any indication, this universe is ripe for expansion. Hell is really just the beginning of more chaotic adventures. 

Hell Bent is a picture-perfect addition to Bardugo’s Alex Stern-verse. Now that Alex has been compelled to confront her literal demons, she’s practically unstoppable. There’s still plenty of academic underworlds to explore. If dark academia is your aesthetic, this series may just be for you.

Hell Bent is available now. 

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