Audiobook Review: Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal

Series: Book 2 of Alex Stern

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (January 10, 2023)

Length: 16 hrs and 16 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators: Lauren Fortgang, Michael David Axtell

Hell Bent take us back to the verdant lawns of and ivy trimmed campuses of Yale, where protagonist Galaxy “Alex” Stern had gotten her second chance in life after pulling herself out of a downward spiral of drugs and chaos. Now at Lethe House, the ninth of the university’s secret societies, she has taken on the role of Virgil, whose duties include conducting magical rituals and keeping all that power in control. Oh right, and she can see ghosts.

At this point, if you haven’t read Ninth House yet, be aware this review may reference events and reveal possible from the previous book. For those who are caught up though, you may recall that we left things on a bit of a cliffhanger, with the disappearance of the former Virgil and Alex’s mentor, Darlington. As the story opens, it is made clear that he has been sent to hell, and it is uncertain if anyone would be able to bring him back. Alex, however, is determined to try. Researching together with Pamela Dawes, who as Lethe’s Oculus is the chief archivist, they come across a reference to the Gauntlet which is said to be a pathway to hell. But the secrets to this portal is closely guarded, as Alex soon discovers. The more she persists in her quest to get to Darlington, the more danger she seems to bring upon herself from all corners.

Hell Bent manages to capture everything that made Ninth House such a tautly suspenseful and gripping read while simultaneously improving upon some of these aspects. This time, the plot steps a little further away from the politicking of academia and the intrigue of secret societies (though rest assured there was still plenty of both!) to focus more on magical rituals and demonic elements. Needless to say, this made for an even more entertaining read, automatically put this sequel above the original in my eyes.

Alex also sees a lot of growth between the two books. We already know she’s a survivor, her character having lived through unspeakable trauma and abuse to come through on the other side—not unscathed but alive and extraordinarily evolved. One noticeable change is a softening of Alex’s personality as she comes off as less aloof and standoffish in this novel. This time, she has friends and close confidants with whom she feels comfortable working, and the effects are immediate: the conversations are easier, wittier, and more confident. Alex now has reason to be a better friend and person, and her complex feelings for Darlington also fuel her drive to get him back.

Then there are the demons. Hell Bent was certainly a more exciting read than Ninth House was, though the latter still reigns in terms of intrigue and mystery. But for pure action and nail biting suspense, the win goes to this sequel. Once the requirements of the Gauntlet ritual are made known, you can’t help but hang on every word wondering what might happen next. The plotting feels much tighter in Hell Bent, setting a quick pace early on that hardly wavers.

And finally, a huge shoutout to the wonderful audiobook narrators Lauren Fortgang and Michael David Axtell who reprise their roles from the first book. Once more they both delivered amazing performances and I hope there will be another sequel real soon—I would not hesitate to listen to Fortgang and Axtell again.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Ninth House (Book 1)

9 Comments on “Audiobook Review: Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo”

  1. I totally agree with you Mogsy and maybe should also have expanded on Alex softeni g because if she is still a survivor at heart, she is absorbing everything magic like a sponge and wants to stay at YALE with these people that are now her found family.


  2. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 02/05/23: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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