Book Review

Hell Bent By Leigh Bardugo

Hell Bent

  • Author: Leigh Bardugo
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publication Date: January 10, 2023
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • Series: Alex Stern #2

Rating: 5 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: violence, blood, murder, bullying, drug use, death, gore

Wealth. Power. Murder. Magic. Alex Stern is back and the Ivy League is gong 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 Bardugo’s signature twists, Hell Bent brings to life an intricate world full of magic, violence, and all too real monsters.

I have been looking forward to reading this since finishing Ninth House, and naturally I jumped at the chance to buddy read this one with Becky @ Becky’s Book Blog. She and I have been doing buddy reads for quite some time now, and we both expected to love this one, so it was the perfect read to share. We usually come up with some ridiculous theories, but this one had us so stumped that we just couldn’t come up with any.

Initially, we pick up where we left off. Lethe is kind of limping along through the (largely self-taught) efforts of Alex and the not insignificant assistance of Dawes, who are starting to develop some kind of tenuous bond. Alex is also getting closer to her roommates, especially Mercy, which I loved seeing. Along the way, we get to see a lot more of Alex’s vulnerable and emotional side, which we haven’t gotten a lot of in the previous book. She’s starting to feel a little safer, enough to begin to let people in just a little bit. It was a nice change to see this other side of her that she keeps under such tight wraps as a protective mechanism.

“What if this wasn’t a punishment or a trial? What if, for once, luck was running in her direction instead of away? What if this was her prize for so much hurt? What if, this time, magic had worked the way it was supposed to, the way it did in stories?”

However, as this is happening, specters from her past come up to haunt her. We get a lot more insight into what her life was like in California, her relationships with the people who were around in her past, but also how she hasn’t fully escaped her past simply by moving across the country. However, the whole group—Alex, Dawes, Turner, Mercy, and a few surprise guests—wind up becoming a found family, and I was all about this dynamic. It feels like Alex has just always been adrift, and she’s actually setting down some roots finally, but of course, everything goes to chaos as that happens. But I’d expect nothing less from a group planning to go into hell.

While the majority of the book is narrated through Alex’s POV, there’s a bit through the POV of the other major characters in the story. I loved getting to know what was going on in Dawes and Turner’s mind—it added some extra depth to their characters, and let me feel like I knew them a bit better, and what motivates them. It also explains a lot about how they’ve been relating to each other.

“And then he’d disappeared, and Dawes hadn’t been able to forgive this girl who charged through the world like an unintended consequence, a calamity for everyone and everything around her.”

But in addition to the primary mission of reclaiming Darlington from the pits of hell, there’s plenty more going on in the story. There’s something fishy going on in New Haven, and our little crew is trying to figure out what is going on. But none of us have all the pieces to the puzzle, so when everything is finally figured out, it was a shocking surprise for us, but also the characters.

“They weren’t seeing the whole picture, and Alex couldn’t help but think someone didn’t want them to.”

This is a fast-paced and exciting story, and I’d expect nothing less from Leigh Bardugo. Although it’s clearly fantasy, it’s so closely intertwined with Yale and the history associated with the secret societies that it almost feels like it could happen. This one grabbed me by the throat from the start and didn’t let go, and I didn’t mind a bit at all. I loved the surprising plot twists, the childlike allure of magic, the mysteries, and the connections between all the characters. But what really got me the most was the cliffhanger ending that’s going to have me on the edge of my seat for the next 2 years.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 21

17 replies »

  1. This is such a great review. I thought the last 1/3 didn’t have the same punch as the first 2/3 but otherwise I loved it. I’m so happy to read this review!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent review! I have both books in this series (yes, I know it’s supposed to be a trilogy), but for some reason I can’t get past Chapter 2 in “Ninth House.” Maybe I need more motivation (or time)? Your review of both books piqued my desire to read the series, but I know I won’t get to do so anytime soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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