by Leigh Bardugo
“To pay your debts, you had to know who you owed. You had to decide who you were willing to go to war for and who you trusted to jump into the fray for you. That was all there was in this world. No heroes or villains, just the people you’d brave the waves for, and the ones you’d let drown.”
After the events of Ninth House, Daniel Arlington—the part of him that isn’t trapped in hell—is bound in the warding circle in ballroom of Black Elm, but that binding will not hold forever. Without his soul, the gentleman of Lethe isn’t quite human, and there is no saying what destruction might be unleashed when the circle finally fails. Alex Stern and Pamela Dawes will need to find the gateway to hell rumoured to be hidden in New Haven and either steal Darlington’s soul back or destroy him before he harms anyone. Forbidden by Lethe from attempting the rescue, Dante, Oculus and Centurion shed their official roles and—with the help of an unexpected ally—set about planning a covert operation to extract Darlington. But no one can walk into hell without paying a price.
Heading into her second year with Lethe, Alex is trying to keep too many balls in the air. She needs to attend class, save Darlington from hell, appease the reactionary new praetor of Lethe, assuage her mother’s worries, and ensure that her roommates don’t find out anything they shouldn’t about the supernatural. Worse, the past she thought she’d left behind in Los Angeles has come calling, and now she has a drug lord to worry about. And if that weren’t enough, Alex doesn’t just see the Greys, she now hears them as well, raising more questions about what it means to be a Wheelwalker.
In Hell Bent, Leigh Bardugo employs a non-linear narrative structure similar to Ninth House; we get a glimpse into a moment of crisis before returning to the beginning of the school year and learning how Alex came to that critical point. The story is told predominantly from Alex’s point of view, but with additional sections from the other characters. In particular, on the descent to hell, we see from the perspective of each of the four pilgrims the murder that qualifies them to descend, deepening our insights into the secondary characters. The not-quite-human Darlington also gets a stint in the second half.
Hell Bent comes in at nearly 500 pages, and is divided into two parts, entitled “As Above” and “So Below.” While there are constant puzzles and dangerous occurrences driving the action, the pacing was recursive, particularly around the mid-point when a failed first attempt to extract Darlington from hell sets Alex and her allies back to square one in many respects. And with the door to hell cracked open, additional complications rear their heads in the second act, not all of which are resolved in this installment. On Twitter, Bardugo has hinted there may be as many as five book in the series, though nothing is certain in publishing.
Like its predecessor, Hell Bent absolutely runs the gamut of possible content warnings for everything from death and violence to police brutality and animal cruelty. If you need more information, consider checking out the book’s page on Storygraph. This Goodreads alternative allows users to submit warnings along with their reviews, an extremely useful feature for helping you decide if a book or series might be your speed right now. However, do note that since these are user submitted, the feature necessarily works better for more popular books that have a lot of reviews. I’ve been trying it out for the last year or so, and you can find me here on Storygraph.
You might also like Babel by R.F. Kuang