Alex Stern is back at Yale and ready to break Darlington out of hell. When the powers-that-be forbid them from attempting a rescue, Alex and Dawes must figure out a plan without any help. After finding a reference to a pathway called the Gauntlet that can open a portal to hell, they assemble a team of murderers for a dangerous ritual. In the meantime, Yale faculty begins to die off and a figure from Alex’s past reemerges. If everyone is going to make it out alive, she’ll have to reckon with more darkness than she’s ever seen.
After 2019’s Ninth House took everyone by storm and ended on a major cliffhanger, Leigh Bardugo had a lot of work to do in her follow-up. Thankfully, Hell Bent is full of everything she does best. Grisly magic, fantastic characters and a breathless plot combine into an excellent sequel.
Like she did in Ninth House, Alex starts out Hell Bent way over her head. Newly promoted to Virgil, head of Lethe, she must keep the other societies in check without Darlington’s guidance. At the same time, she’s working to get him back without the help of those who know more about magic than she does. One of her major strengths, however, is in rallying people to a cause, even if she doesn’t think of herself as a people person.
Alex Stern is a fighter through and through. She shakes things off that could literally kill her and will do anything for the people she cares about. I loved getting to see other people care about her too. The way she developed her connections with others in her second year at Yale felt natural and earned after the trauma they experienced together.
At the end of Ninth House, the question on everyone’s mind was whether or not Darlington would survive his trip to hell. Darlington is one of the series’ most beloved characters, and yet he barely exists on the page. We mostly get to know him in flashbacks and memories. As a result, it’s a testament to Bardugo’s skills that readers care about him as much as they do. The relationships he built in New Haven drive his rescue efforts and the plot of Hell Bent as a whole. Readers do get to know him a bit more here, albeit in a very different form. Still, I think Darlington’s return will easily satisfy.
If you’ve been craving a return to Alex Stern’s world since October 2019, the wait is finally over. Hell Bent is gut-wrenching and chilling and well worth the wait.
Hell Bent is out now and is available for purchase through your local, independent bookstore or Bookshop.org.
TW: addiction, animal death, blood, body horror, death, demons, drug use, murder, panic attacks/disorders, racism, sexual assault/violence, suicide, violence, vomit
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