Book Review

Team Hell Heist Crew — Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo {Book Review}

Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Hell Bent (Alex Stern #2)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Flatiron Books
Release Date: January 10th, 2023
Standalone/Series: Series
Genre: Adult Fiction – Fantasy – Mystery

My rating in stars: 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

My rating in words: 

Check it out on Goodreads


Wealth. Power. Murder. Magic. Alex Stern is back and the Ivy League is going straight to hell in #1 New York Times bestselling author Leigh Bardugo’s Hell Bent.

Find a gateway to the underworld. Steal a soul out of hell. A simple plan, except people who make this particular journey rarely come back. But Galaxy “Alex” Stern is determined to break Darlington out of purgatory―even if it costs her a future at Lethe and at Yale.

Forbidden from attempting a rescue, Alex and Dawes can’t call on the Ninth House for help, so they assemble a team of dubious allies to save the gentleman of Lethe. Together, they will have to navigate a maze of arcane texts and bizarre artifacts to uncover the societies’ most closely guarded secrets, and break every rule doing it. But when faculty members begin to die off, Alex knows these aren’t just accidents. Something deadly is at work in New Haven, and if she is going to survive, she’ll have to reckon with the monsters of her past and a darkness built into the university’s very walls.

Thick with history and packed with Bardugo’s signature twists, Hell Bent brings to life an intricate world full of magic, violence, and all too real monsters.

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Review - Hell Bent


(WARNING: This review is spoiler-free for Hell Bent but will contain spoilers for Ninth House)

“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 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.”

I’m here with my very first rave review of the year, and boy am I happy that it is for my most anticipated release of 2023: Hell Bent, sequel to one of my all-time favorite reads, Ninth House. It’s always a bit scary to read a sequel to a beloved book, because you can never be sure the sequel will live up to your expectations. But Hell Bent lived up to all of my expectations. While it was a little different from Ninth House in some ways (Ninth House felt more gritty and grounded, Hell Bent is more fantastical and out of this world), all of the elements that made me fall in love with this story are still very much present and even better. Here’s what I loved the most:

The plot, a literal hell heist

As Ninth House ended with Alex vowing to get her lost mentor, Darlington, back from hell, this was naturally the main plot of Hell Bent. And I mean, what a plot that is! Alex and Dawes work together to rescue Darlington, even if they are on their own and must work in utmost secrecy because Lethe is not only no help, but also made it explicitly clear that the endeavor is too dangerous and must not be attempted or there would be serious consequences. But Alex and Dawes are determined (and that’s why we love them). Of course, breaking in and stealing a soul from hell is no easy task and it turns out they must recruit a few more people to get on team Hell Heist, which brings me to my next point…

The Hell Heist crew

I have never loved a bunch of characters more than I do the Hell Heist Crew. I’m a sucker for the found family trope, and Hell Bent delivered. So allow me a brief moment to rave about my babies.

Of course we have Alex, our haunted survivor with a rattler’s soul that can see ghosts. She has done some terrible things in order to survive and she’s not sorry about any of them. She may not be easy to love, but she’s loyal to those she loves and she would go through hell for them (quite literally). She’s still thinking she doesn’t belong at Yale or Lethe, that she stole someone else’s life, but she’ll also fight for this home she has made. While it took me a while to warm up to Alex in book one, I love her now. She may do some questionable things, but I’m cheering her on every single time. Also, gotta applaud the girl’s time management skills.

I already proclaimed my undying love for Pamela Dawes in my Ninth House review, and that love has only grown. Dawes is a shy, anxious girl whose headphones are her wall against the outside world and I relate so much. But she’s also so determined and bad-ass when she needs to be, and I love how protective she is of Alex and Darlington, her people. And of course, Dawes is the brain and without her nothing would get done ever, so go Dawes!

We also see Turner again, the cop and Lethe liaison who would rather have nothing to do with this magic business at all, thank you very much. Turner is the rock in this crew, steady and rational and with a hell of a poker face. Though he’s a stoic man and pretty disgusted with the societies and their abuse of their power, it’s clear he developed a soft spot for Alex. He tries to hide it and will deny when asked, but it’s there and I love how respectful he’s actually become of her. Though their banter is still on point.

And that’s not all. Two more members join our Hell Heist crew, both characters we’ve already met in Ninth House. One’s expected, one’s not so much. I’m not gonna go into detail about either of them, as I think it’s best to discover as you read, but I will say that I have grown to fiercely love both of them. They are both amazing, if a little unexpected, additions to our little crew and I salute Leigh for adding them in.

And of course, Darlington. He’s the reason for this mission and while I can’t say much about him because that would be spoilery, I will only say I love him. Our gentleman demon.

The hauntingly brutal and fast-paced writing style

Just like Ninth House, Hell Bent is written in a way that will grab you by the heart. Every sentence, every paragraph has a darkness to it that is made even more profound with a hauntingly beautiful use of metaphors. The writing oozes atmosphere, and yet it’s also so action-packed that you’ll be turning the pages non-stop, torn between re-reading certain parts because they’re just so beautiful and rushing ahead because you NEED to know what’s going to happen next. Could there have been a bit more quiet moments? Yes. I would have loved some more introspection and big conversations between the characters. But with a hell heist to prepare for, murders on campus and demons to watch out for, there is just no time. Which made all the little moments we did get, hit even harder.


Hell Bent was an amazing sequel that I can only recommend to anyone who read and loved Ninth House. It has amazing worldbuilding and lore that’s based on a very real setting (Yale University and its’ societies) but with some very fantastical elements added. You’ll be sure to fall in love with this crew of flawed characters and their character development throughout the story. The writing is dark and gritty and hauntingly beautiful. Its one of my favorite reads, a series that will always be top of my mind when someone asks for recommendations. I already can’t wait for book three.

Five Stars
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“You rescue me. I rescue you. That’s how this works. 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.”

“Why raise children on the promise of magic? Why create a want in them that can never be satisfied—for revelation, for transformation—and then set them adrift in a bleak, pragmatic world?”

“This is what your magic is for, isn’t it? This is what it does. Props up the people in power, lets the people with everything take a little more?”

“And what tools did Alex have? A little magic. A talent for misfortune. The ability to take a beating. It would have to be enough. ‘This is my home,’ she vowed, and nothing will take it from me.”

“That was the problem with love. It was hard to unlearn, no matter how harsh the lesson.”

… AND that one other quote that I’m sure every Hell Bent reader loves, but I can’t post because it’s a major spoiler 😉

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Tell Me:
Have you read Hell Bent? What did you think about it?

Lindsey xoxo

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  1. Yasssss #TeamHellHeist! I finished the book yesterday and it was puuuurfect!

    1. It was indeed such perfection! I already miss my Hell Heist babies <3

  2. Sophie @BewareOfTheReader says:

    YESSSSS! And like Stephanie said I am also #TeamHellHeist . I am so happy to see your very enthusiastic review Lindsey because that’s also a huge favorite of mine!

    1. Yay, so glad so many of us are loving Hell Bent and #TeamHellHeist <3

  3. That’s awesome that this one lived up to your expectations.

    1. It’s definitely great when that happens 😀

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