To Hell and Back: A Review of Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo
Cameron CapelloJan 27 2023
As we settle into the new year, something is overwhelming about the possibilities of the twelve blank months ahead of us. They’re untouched. Our resolutions, whether to read more or complete the ab workout, we bookmarked months ago, loom over us with impatience. Under the guise of self-improvement, we are desperate to manufacture happiness in a finite amount of time. I’ve been in my twenties for three years and have been trying out a new identity every day since. Moving puzzle pieces silently inside myself to unlock the final version has been exhausting (and unsuccessful). It manifests in how I dress and my posture while waiting for the subway. It invades my dreams and rains down on me in the shower daily. But the picture is still unclear, the edges blurry, and no matter how hard I try, I’m still missing a piece the next day. January can be a solemn month. It reignites the pressure to find your ideal self. It reminds me of the countdown. In this digital age of aesthetics, it’s difficult not to compare oneself to others' success. To their precise routines and expert morning coffee recipes. I was feeling particularly glum this afternoon. I had just watched a video about someone moving to Paris. They were eating a buttery, glorious croissant, which pissed me off. But then I came across a book. It was a dark academia fantasy, a sequel I had been looking forward to reading. It was supposed to be escapism. A way to forget the dread that I wasn’t doing enough with my life and that others my age were excelling without breaking a sweat (they definatly are- breaking a sweat. I was too moody to realize this). I had no idea that when I opened the book, I would learn more about myself, how I think, and what matters most to me than I had the past year. Someone had stamped my soul onto this character, written me down, and allowed me to read about parts of myself I had hidden.
As I said, this isn’t the type of book you expect to solve your existential crisis. But here I am, 400 pages later, feeling more hopeful than I have since graduating college. It isn’t easy to pinpoint what made this book special for me. Here's the synopsis (provided by Leigh Bardugo): Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s first-year 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.The sequel, "Hell Bent," picks up at Yale University again, but Alex must go to Hell this time. Literally.
My review of Hell Bent
I have been torn apart by Alex's selflessness and her inability to recognize herself as anything but unworthy. Here is a girl willing to travel to the fiery depths of Hell, not once, but twice, for a friend, and she cannot believe she deserves anything but doom, gloom, and bad luck. The most special girl in the world couldn't even look at herself in the mirror. But in a rare chapter, we get another's perspective. A ghost. Someone from Alex's past who knew her best. Desperate to communicate in her dying moments how special, deserving and brilliant Alex Stern is. I had to pause. To pace. As I realized, oh shit. Is this how we see ourselves? It depressed me. Infuriated me! We spend so much of our lives uncomfortable and embarrassed. So confused about who we are that we forget to look outside our own chapters. I finished the book. I cried on a plane next to a boy vomiting from motion sickness. I felt transformed. Awakened. Alex Sten has taught me that even if you sometimes can't see your own worth, it's there. Glowing brightly like hellfire. It might be hidden. It might be visible to everyone besides you. But it's there. It doesn't matter how long it takes for you to find it. You will. You just might have to look a little closer. Did Leigh Bardugo intend to send me on an introspective journey of self-discovery? The chances are slim. But that's the power of storytelling. Thanks, Leigh. You've done more for me than you can imagine.
Quotes from Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
“Mors irrumat omnia. Death fucks us all.”
“That was what magic did. It revealed the heart of who you'd been before life took away your belief in the possible. It gave back the world all lonely children longed for.”
“But would it have mattered if she’d been someone else? If she’d been a social butterfly, they would have said she liked to drink away her pain. If she’d been a straight-A student, they would have said she’d been eaten alive by her perfectionism. There were always excuses for why girls died.”
“He needed her and she needed him. That was how most disasters began.”
“Take me back. Make me into someone who has never been done harm. Go as far as you can. Make me brand-new. No bruises. No scars.”
Quotes from Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo
I have appetites, Stern. They are not entirely wholesome."
"Things you love, things you need, they don't stop taking."
"In those moments, she felt something deeper than the mere need to survive, a glimpse at what it might mean if she could simply learn and stop trying so hard all the time."
She would read, and go to class, and live in an apartment with good light. She would feel curious instead of panicked wen people mentioned artists she didn't know, authors she'd never read. She would have a stack of books by her bedside table. She would listen to Morning Becomes Eclectic. She would get the jokes, speak the language; she would become fluent in leisure."
"And why the fuck hadn't anyone told her vampires are real?"
"Galaxy Stern," Darlington said, his eyes flashing gold, "I have been crying out to you from the start."
"Maybe I know a fellow monster when I see one."
She spent every day afraid, of saying the wrong thing, asking the wrong question, humiliating herself. Standing in line, scrambling for chance, she felt her face flush, her heart race, thinking of all the people behind her, waiting."
"I'm bound to you, Stern. To the woman who brought me out of hell. I will serve you 'til the end of days."
"You know your problem?""A predilection for first editions and women who like to lecture me about myself?"