YA Megastar Leigh Bardugo Pens Her First Adult Fantasy

Posted by Marie on October 1, 2019
Readers around the globe adore Leigh Bardugo for her Grishaverse novels, a series of bestselling young adult fantasies. Bardugo's books are iconic in the YA world, inspiring literary tattoos, book candle scents, fan art, and more. To add to this fervor, there's also a Netflix adaptation in the works.

Now Barudgo will be making her mark in the world of adult fantasy with Ninth House.

"I knew very early on that this was not a story that belonged in young adult," says Bardugo. "Not the way I wanted to tell it." Indeed, Ninth House goes beyond a coming-of-age tale and introduces much darker themes that center on secret societies and the occult.

Her main source of inspiration? Her alma mater, Yale University, which is where Ninth House takes place. Oh, and the societies she writes about? Those actually do exist. "The societies—excluding Lethe—are all very real," says Bardugo. "But obviously the magic they practice isn't. (Though I hope there will be moments when you wonder if it is.) I tied each society's occult practices to some element of their existing history or lore."

Here Bardugo takes us behind the gates of this alternate version of the Ivy League school and shares which books her longtime readers can pick up to prepare themselves for the grisly adventures ahead.

Goodreads: You've mentioned that the story of Ninth House has been haunting you since you first set foot in New Haven. Can you describe that first inkling?

Leigh Bardugo: You have to remember I grew up in a little dump of an apartment in the San Fernando Valley. So going to Yale really did feel like I'd walked through the wardrobe to someplace magical. Everything was stone walls and gothic arches and snow, and I was primed to see mystery everywhere.

I remember walking home from the post office and looking up from the letter I was reading to realize I was standing in front of a mausoleum roughly the size of an apartment building. It had no windows, and it was surrounded by a black fence crawling with wrought-iron snakes. How could I not fall in love?

That building turned out to be the "tomb" or clubhouse of Book and Snake, one of the oldest secret societies at Yale, and I think that may be where the idea for Ninth House began: What if Yale's secret societies weren't just blue-blood drinking clubs but repositories of arcane magic?

GR: Now more than 20 years later, you're bringing that story to life. What made you feel like it was finally the right time?

LB: I pitched this idea to my agent the first time we spoke, and I'd bring it up every few years. But there really wasn’t any time to pause and dig into something new. I had my head down, trying to deliver a new book every year, building the Grishaverse.

Then after touring for Six of Crows, I took a couple of weeks and just let myself sink into Ninth House. It wasn't so much that the right time magically arrived, as I just had to grab the moment and say, "OK, we're doing this."

GR: You've also been very candid about Ninth House being an adult fantasy novel. What influenced that direction, and how was your approach to this novel different from your young adult books?

LB: I knew very early on that this was not a story that belonged in young adult, not the way I wanted to tell it. I think readers who follow me to Ninth House are going to find familiar threads of dark humor and found family. And, of course, there's a deep element of wish fulfillment that goes along with writing about magic at a place like Yale.

But writing about an institution like Yale means exploring the power that operates in that world honestly, and that means reckoning with privilege and class and race. And writing about a young woman making her way as an undergraduate means that, yes, there should be poetry and tea with professors and beautiful libraries, but for me it also meant acknowledging the realities of gender and harassment and assault.

GR: What was it like writing a dark fantasy set at your alma mater? We imagine there was a lot of source material to draw from!

LB: Plenty. But it wasn't just Yale that inspired me; it was New Haven, too. I'm embarrassed to say how little I knew about a place I lived in for four years. I absolutely let myself stay comfortable in my bubble.

But when I started digging into my research, the city just kept revealing itself in these surprising, strange ways. With the exception of Black Elm, every single structure I've described in Ninth House is real, and much of the history of New Haven is as well.

GR: Power is a subject that you've explored in many of your books. It's especially reflected through the occult secret societies at the center of Ninth House. What can you tell us about these sinister groups?

LB: The societies—excluding Lethe—are all very real, but obviously the magic they practice isn't. (Though I hope there will be moments when you wonder if it is.) I tied each society’s occult practices to some element of their existing history or lore.

Book and Snake's tomb is directly across from the gates to the Grove Street Cemetery, so of course they're necromancers. Manuscript has some extraordinarily successful actors and media personalities among its alumni, so it made sense to tie their magic to glamours and illusion. Wolf's Head are shape-shifters, of course, and so on. Magic is just another kind of power, so who has access to it is a big question in Ninth House.

GR: From Kaz Brekker to Genya Safin, your rich and nuanced characters continue to blow your fans' minds—and they have the fan art and literary tattoos to prove it! What's your advice for rendering such wonderful characters that readers can feel passionate about?

LB: Stop worrying about likability and give your characters something to want. I think characters work best when we understand very deeply, and very specifically, what they want and what they're willing to do for it.

GR: Tell us about the process of rendering your main character, Alex Stern. What kind of magic (or maybe dark alchemy?) went into evolving her character through the final draft?

LB: I just never let myself shy away from Alex's rage. She's been cut off from her own culture, her family, religion, and I think I identify with the way that rootlessness has isolated her and left her vulnerable. She is a hungry character, a survivor to her very core, and that made her thrilling to write. How far will she go? What might she do next? She was so loud and so surprising.

GR: And a huge congratulations to the Grishaverse novels being adapted! What has the process been like for you so far?

LB: Pretty wild. There are moments you feel like you have a hand on the wheel, others when you feel like you're riding shotgun in someone else’s high-speed chase. But I just saw a camera test with two of the characters in costume for the first time, and it was so extraordinary.

GR: You've alluded that Ninth House carries undertones of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Magicians. Are there any other books you think readers should pick up to prepare themselves?

LB: I think there's an obvious debt to The Secret History in this book, but I think its tone and content are closer to what you might find in Stephen King or Gillian Flynn. I guess Ninth House is Harry Potter by way of Darren Aronofsky? Prepare as you see fit.

GR: And finally, what's next on the horizon for you? What upcoming projects are you currently most excited about?

LB: I'm currently working on the sequel to King of Scars, and then I’ll be diving into the sequel to Ninth House. But I have a couple of other projects brewing—something that might be a graphic novel and something else I'm not ready to talk about yet. Stories are shy. I don't like to drag them out into the light until they're ready.

Leigh Bardugo's new novel, Ninth House, is available in the U.S. on October 8. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-34 of 34 (34 new)

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message 1: by gwendalyn (new)

gwendalyn _books_ This is Great Interview.. I can’t wait to to read this book

message 2: by Geo (new)

Geo Marcovici Great interview! Congrats!

message 3: by Megan (new)

Megan » Hello Book Bird Awesome interview! Loved the read. :)

message 4: by Nicole (new)

Nicole Rubino What a fantastic interview! She is amazing.

message 5: by Alice (new)

Alice hamer This interview definitely had me intrigued. Like Skulls but not I am guessing. Cannot wait! Thank you for the email about the interview!

message 6: by Michaela (new)

Michaela Bergland Immediately after I finished reading this interview, I ordered the book. I can't wait to read it!

message 7: by Samantha (new)

Samantha Silva Can’t wait to read this and the sequel to king of scars!!

message 8: by Arch (new)

Arch Ninth House has been on my most anticipated releases for months. I'm definitely even more looking forward to reading it now.

message 9: by Morgan (new)

Morgan Loved the interview, but I still feel like this books isn't gonna be for me. I really hope others enjoy it!

message 10: by ellymate (new)

ellymate This is nice, i actually wanna see the tv adaptation :) and the next book with Nikolai!

message 11: by Shirley (new)

Shirley Golightly Can't wait to read it :) <3 and I'm so excited for the Grishaverse adaption :D <3

message 12: by Rae (new)

Rae Great interview! all hail my queen !

message 13: by Nishi (new)

Nishi Wadhwani I really liked the grishsverse series and can't wait for another Leigh Bardugo book.

message 14: by Sareeta (new)

Sareeta Currently reading it :)
I still need to read King of Scars but I want to wait until its sequel comes out in case it ends in a cliffhanger.

message 15: by Pinktwest (new)

Pinktwest I am now even more excited to read ninth house and so happy that Leigh Bardugo is currently writing the second book of King of Scars!!!!!!!! We can expect a release date soon I hope!!!!!! I’m actually reading the Grisha trilogy (I’ve read the Six of Crows duology) so that I could read King of Scars!!!!!!!!

message 16: by Ekene (new)

Ekene I know the book has been having some mixed reviews, but I am very excited. I trust Leigh

message 17: by Nicole (new)

Nicole Aroca OMG!! I can´t no wait to read the book, I´m very excited.

Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ gwendalyn wrote: "This is Great Interview.. I can’t wait to to read this book"

This really was! I've only read (& loved) one of Bardugo's short stories, but this does sound really good!

message 19: by Ajms98 (new)

Ajms98 I love LB's writing and Dark Academia is deff one of my favorite genres so I'm so exited for this new book!

message 20: by TMR (new)

TMR Aye, 200th like, hahaha! But I’m really excited to read Ninth house, once my library copy gets here! And the other novels look so darn good, I might try them out as well.

message 21: by Mindy (new)

Mindy Parris All right, this interview convinced me to pick the book up. I'm excited to read it!

message 22: by Fiorela (new)

Fiorela Great interview, I love Leigh Bardugo, of course, I am reading the Ninth House.

message 23: by Alexis (new)

Alexis I'm going to see if I can get this for Christmas!

message 24: by LizaLoveReads (new)

LizaLoveReads "Stop worrying about likability and give your characters something to want. I think characters work best when we understand very deeply, and very specifically, what they want and what they're willing to do for it." Such good advice!

message 25: by C.J. (new)

C.J. Edmunds Just got the book. Can't wait to start!

message 26: by Camila (new)

Camila Excited for the book!

message 27: by Nikki (new)

Nikki Hilton look forward to the special foil version at your book launch in London- see you soon! (very soon:)

message 28: by Kristi (new)

Kristi I was at an interview with Leigh Bardugo at the Cambridge Public Library two days ago. She is hilarious, genuine and intelligent. Great interview, Goodreads! I'm 70 pages into the book and would love to leave work 'sick' to go read the rest.

message 29: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Phillips Davidson So very excited to read Ninth House. I couldn't get enough of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom!

message 30: by Jessica (new)

Jessica This book popped up in Book of The Month for November sooo I definitely picked that one. I love her books, she’s a brilliant writer

message 31: by Jake (new)

Jake Reading Ninth House now! I should finish today. Really enjoying it. I'm happy to hear Bardugo is writing sequels for both King of scars and Ninth house!

message 32: by Henna (new)

Henna Assassin ❤❤❤

message 33: by Hana (new)

Hana I love this! I love Leigh Bardugos way of communicating and just her words and everything. So excited to dive into the rest of her books and see the grishaverse adaptation!

message 34: by Mary (new)

Mary LaPointe Do we have a release date for the follow up to King of Scars, yet?

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