Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo – Review

Published: January 10, 2023

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Series: Alex Stern #2

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 481 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Wealth. Power. Murder. Magic. Alex Stern is back and the Ivy League is going straight to hell in #1 New York Times bestselling author Leigh Bardugo’s Hell Bent.

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’ve been anxiously awaiting Hell Bent for over 3 years (along with everyone else) after I totally fell in love with the dark academia occultness of Ninth House. What could possibly be more appealing than making *real* secret societies at an Ivy League college fantastical? Literally nothing, that’s what. 

After the traumatic events of Ninth House – Dawes killing somebody, Darlington getting eaten by a hellhound, and homicide – the characters sort of fade into normalcy for the summer months. Then the fall term arrives and Alex has gotten stuck enforcing for the jerkwad drug dealer from California because he’s threatening her mother. She’s trying to balance that highly dangerous job with her classes and duties as interim Dante. They continue the illusion that Darlington is merely vacationing in Spain and that he’s totally not in Hell. Except he very much is, and Alex, Dawes, and their cop buddy (I CANNOT remember his name) begin digging through every information source available to them for the location of the Gauntlet, which is a portal to Hell. Much of the book is filled with research even after Darlington makes a dramatic (and very nude) return to Black Elm where he resides in a magic circle in his demon form. They still must rescue his soul from its entrapment and I must say, when they finally do make it to Hell, it’s quite the page turner. Even more so when they barely escape and realize they HAVE TO GO BACK! It’s honestly great even though I was totally stressed for our characters, especially poor Dawes. Much to my relief, the ending was great and neatly wrapped up all the plot threads and even though it didn’t have a “5 years later” epilogue, it was implied that the ending was overall happy. 

I really enjoyed this, particularly in audio format because the narrators did a bang up job once again. I hope Leigh Bardugo continues to write in the adult genre, as I think it suits the dark atmosphere she creates in her stories. While I enjoyed Six of Crows, I do prefer the Alex Stern duology by far.


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