Hell Bent Book Review
Would you be willing to go to Hell to rescue a loved one? That's what Alex Stern intends to do in Leigh Bardugo's latest release, Hell Bent. I've been excited for this book, and it did not disappoint.
Genre: Adult Paranormal Fantasy / Dark Academia
Category: Spooky Read
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RATING: 4/5 Stars
Plot: 4/5 stars
Characters: 4/5 stars
World: 4/5 stars
“If only the evil did terrible things, what a simple world it would be.”
CONTENT WARNING: Like its predecessor, Hell Bent gets dark. Depending on your sensitivities, it could be an easier read than the first book. There’s less SA, but this installment deals with bullying, murder, privilege, drugs, slavery, and dirty cops (particularly the ways they harm the Black community). Please make sure you're in a good headspace before diving in.
"I'm the Wheelwalker. You have no idea what I can do."
Alex doesn't exactly know herself, but that's never stopped her. After the big reveal at the end of Ninth House, she has some answers (and more questions) about her abilities—and whether they can be used to bring Darlington back.
In his absence, Alex is filling the role of Virgil, monitoring the magical practices of Yale’s secret societies, protecting them from harm and the public eye. But with no new Dante to work with, she’s pretty much on her own—which makes finding a way to bring Darlington back difficult. Not to mention, the Lethe higher-ups want her and Dawes to give up on Darlington and return to business as usual.
“Why didn’t these people ever get it? Protect your own. Pay your debts. There was no other way to live, not if you wanted to live right.”
In addition to being haunted by her inability to save Darlington at the end of Ninth House, Alex is still dealing with the aftermath of Ground Zero.
And if that all weren't enough, someone—or something—begins killing off professors.
Hell Bent is a solid sequel. The pacing is nice, and there was plenty going on to keep my attention. I read half the book in one day because I was determined to see what happened.
For the most part, I loved the writing and found myself tabbing lines and quotes to come back to. I’m not a fan of nonlinear plots, but this one didn’t bother me much. It was a good way for Bardugo to begin the story on a cliffhanger, and she wrapped it around nicely.
Alex may not be my favorite protagonist, but I admire how she always steps up to challenges. And there were many in this book: planning a hell heist that people want to talk her out of, crotchety old men with sexist and elitist views, keeping up with classes, and protecting everyone from demons and murders.
I will say she appears to be growing, though. She's learning to open up, trust, and care for others. It's obvious Yale is changing her, that she's starting to live rather than survive.
“Comfort was the drug she hadn’t understood until it was too late and she was hooked on cups of tea and book-lined shelves, nights uninterrupted by the wail of sirens and the ceaseless churning of helicopters overhead.”
Darlington is also changing, which is expected considering he's been trapped in literal hell for a year. He's understandably darker and broodier with a lot to work through. He understands Alex more, and she him.
I look forward to seeing their relationship develop. The slow burn is frustrating (in a good way). The pacing feels right; all the mixed emotions and angst will lead to a satisfying ending. Or, at least, I hope so.
"You know what your problem is?"
"A predilection for first editions and women who like to lecture me about myself?"
“You didn’t turn away. Even when you didn’t like what you saw in me. You kept looking.”
I also enjoyed the development of minor characters, especially Dawes. I relate to her so much, and I was glad to see her growing. I also liked learning about Turner’s past and seeing Alex’s friendships strengthening.
Taking place on and around Yale, Hell Bent is full of lush dark academia vibes and dark magic. I had fun following Alex and Dawes around campus as they searched for a way into hell. I also like that Bardugo shows how awful magic can be, and how it's abused by the elite.
“That was the truth of magic––blood and guts and semen and spit, organs kept in jars, maps for hunting humans, the skulls of unborn infants. The problem wasn’t the books and fairy tales, just that they told half the story, offering up the illusion of a world where only the villains paid in blood, the ogre stepmothers, the wicked stepsisters, where magic was just and without sacrifice.”
Some scenes take place in Los Angeles, but those events only add to the dark tone of the story. And of course we can't forget the major destination: Hell. Bardugo's version of the underworld is really interesting; I look forward to exploring it more in the future.
I enjoyed learning more about Alex's powers, as well as the new monsters. Bardugo does a great job of weaving reality with the paranormal and making the uncanny seem possible.
Hell Bent is definitely Alex's "level up" story, but it does not fall prey to the second book curse. It has plenty of action, mystery, and suspense to keep readers engaged. The character development is nice, and I look forward to seeing where their roads lead. Topping it off is a dark atmosphere that's chilling yet magical, easy to get lost in.
I think it's as good as (if not better than) its predecessor. I would highly recommend Hell Bent to fans of dark magic, dark academia, paranormal drama, and/or murder mysteries, provided they have taken note of the content warnings above and feel comfortable going forward. There is humor and inspiration to keep things lighter, but you can never be too careful.
Thanks for tuning into another review! If you've read this book, let me know what you thought! I am always down to chat. You can strike up a conversation in the comments below, or on our bookstagram or Twitter accounts.