Book #1 Alex Stern Series
Published by Flatiron Books (October 8th 2019)
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
I’m going to do something I normally don’t, I’m going to insert the Goodreads synopsis of the book here, because there’s no way that I can type out what the book is about without going into too much detail:
Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?
Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.
When I first saw that this book was coming out, I was super excited because I absolutely ADORED Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy. I knew that this was nothing alike, of course, but I was excited because this was coined as Bardugo’s first foray into writing an “adult” book. I was interested to see what the author would do with this, and honestly, I wasn’t disappointed.
At first, I had no idea what the F was going on. Not.A.Clue. The beginning quarter of this book is an absolutely chaotic mess and I was so annoyed and confused. First off, this book’s chapters are headed by seasons, the seasons tell us which part of the timeline the current chapter is taking place. Fall I believe is the past, and is generally told from Darlington’s point of view, Winter is the present and is told from Alex’s point of view, and Early Spring is the ‘future’ so to speak. It took a little bit to get the hang of it, but honestly I think it worked well, it allowed us to know where in the timeline we were without having to give us dates and times which is done in majority of other books where there are timeline jumps. We are pretty much dumped in the ‘future’ or, what happened after, from the beginning, so it was a little bit confusing to tell the truth. You have absolutely no idea what is going on, and then it jumps to ‘present day’ and we’re still none the wiser. It felt a lot like being thrown into the deep end and not given any idea on what you’re supposed to be doing. So I will admit, for the first hundred odd pages, I was really annoyed because this was NOT shaping up to be the magnificent story I was hoping it would be.
The story was also rather complex because there is a LOT going on. We essentially have three story lines that are all tangled together, that we’re trying to work through and figure out and, it was a lot, okay? First off we learn incredibly early on that Darlington – Alex’s teacher I guess – is in “Spain” which we all know is not accurate, but we know that Darlington is somewhere and something happened to him and people are wanting to get him back from where this somewhere is. So there’s story one, then we have Alex, something happened to her that involved her being found, heavily drugged, in a house with five (I think) dead people, so we’re trying to get more information on what happened to her. The third story is one that centres on this book itself and it involves the secret societies and their possible involvement with a murdered town girl. With no idea what she’s really doing, Alex sets out to discover what happened to the murdered girl without ending up in the same boat as her.
The world building is fantastic, and the societies were well thought out. I really enjoyed that each society specialises in a certain type of magic, and I also love the urban fantasy setting. I really enjoyed how dark and gritty the story was, and especially how dark Alex’s past was. She’s definitely not a ‘Mary Sue’ character and she is full of flaws which makes her seem especially real. There is talk of overdosing, drug use, drug abuse, domestic abuse and rape in this story, so I’ll put the trigger warning here. If you find these themes difficult to read about, proceed with caution or maybe decide to give this book a miss. The themes aren’t greatly described, but they definitely lent a massive hand in putting this book in the dark, gritty and grisly part of my bookshelf.
I really enjoyed all of the characters. As with the Grisha Trilogy, the characters are well written and are incredibly three dimensional. I especially enjoy the character of Dawes. At first I thought she would end up being a background character, but I really love how she came into the forefront of the story and I sincerely hope she stays there for the upcoming instalments in this series. I enjoyed Alex, she did bug me at times, but to be honest, it just made me like her character even more. Turner was a good inclusion and I kinda hope we get to see more of him as the series continues. I liked what we saw of Darlington, but funnily enough, we only hear about him in the past tense, or reading in the “Fall” chapters, so I’m kinda hoping we get to meet him properly soon. All I know is, his story arc seems like it’s going to flow over a few instalments, so hopefully it’s not too long before we get to meet him in the flesh…I honestly feel like I’ve heard to much about Darlington and I am just dying to meet him already!!
So in short, if you’re struggling in the beginning, stick with it, I promise it gets better, and it all of a sudden starts making sense, so smoothly in fact, I couldn’t even tell you when I actually started to really enjoy what I was reading. The mystery in it was well thought out and expertly executed, with well rounded character who have plenty of room for further development as the series continues. And I can honestly say, I did not, for one second, have any idea what was going to come out at the end, so it was absolutely mind blowing for me. I didn’t think I’d be giving it this high of a rating when I was in the first half of the book, but that last quarter really sold me. If you like a dark and gritty mystery in an urban fantasy setting, with magic, murder, mayhem and a strong female lead who is just trying her damn best, give it a crack, and stick with it, that first hundred pages is a bitch.