Author: C. A. Harland
Personal Context: NetGalley provided me with an e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review
Initial Thoughts: Sick-looking cover, and a vague title were enough to draw me in to read the synopsis. The synopsis (read below) gives the impression of Dante’s Inferno meets Clare’s Shadowhunters series meets Supernatural. The one thing that drew me in was the idea that there were three protagonists, all sisters, and I could tell that they were some bad-ass ladies. I think the thing that really pushed me over the edge to request this book was that because the protagonists were all related, romance wasn’t going to be the main driving force of the story. This in particular is refreshing because so many YA fantasy books feature romance as a major plot device. Not to say that I dislike romantic books, because I do, but this felt like a nice break from the norm.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Tala Morgenstern lives for the hunt, embracing her heritage as a demon hunter. When her younger sister, Hartley, disappears while on the trail of her long-lost father, Tala must seek the help of her other sister Aiva, who has turned her back on the underworld of magic and hunting. Suspecting demonic involvement, Tala and Aiva race to find Hartley before she can be claimed by hell.
Their search takes them deeper into the bowels of Dublin’s criminal underground, where the gangs are led by demons, and the currency is souls. With each Circle of hell bringing new dangers, and new revelations about their own place in the demon hunting world, Tala and Aiva have to rely on each other if they are to stand a chance of fighting their way to the Ninth Circle, and the demon lord who is waiting for them.
My Review of…
…The Plot and Pace:
I find that the plot of a story, ironically, isn’t what I like best, it’s the characters that really get me through a book. Luckily for me, The Ninth Circle had both excellent characters and an engaging plot. From the very start of the story, the action was present. The first few pages established the problem (missing sister) and an end-game (find her and bring her home). There were no glaring plot-holes that broke immersion, and I had very little trouble with maintaining focus. The plot twist felt a little obvious to me, and I had pegged the ending (sort of) before I reached the half-way point, but it was no less satisfying.
…The Characters and Relationships:
Tala and Aiva were my favorite part of this story, and in particular, how they interacted with each other. Their relationship was truly dynamic, archetypal rivalry and repressed feelings were obvious, and were only made more visceral by the stress brought on by the events of the story. The hallmark of this story is the ride-or-die mentality between Tala and Aiva no matter how at-odds they may be. Aiva, in spite of the suffering that the Nighthunter lifestyle brought her, she returned to that life when Tala and Hartley needed her, with almost no hesitation. And Tala, who has dedicated her entire life to hunting demons, faces a life-altering crisis that threatens everything she knows to be true, comes out the other side stronger and more steadfast than before. Even Hartley, who was absent for the majority of the story is painted in a clear light, her characterization concretely defined. Harland did beautifully in crafting complex, relatable characters, and wrapping them in a story where they shine in a light all their own, instead of being squeezed into a box of stereotypes.
…The Writing Style and Mechanics:
The e-ARC I was provided contained a few errors that may have been the result of data lost during transition from pdf to ePUB. Aside from that, Harland’s writing was rich with imagery, grit, and strength of character, Harland effortlessly makes her characters shine.
…The Message(s) and Theme(s):
The Dangers of Corruption: In a world where the criminal underworld is run by demons, and each circle of hell has jurisdiction over a different sector of crime, humans lose not only their money when they gamble, buy drugs, or sell their bodies; they lose their soul too.
The Bond Between Family: Tala and Aiva are testaments to the strength of the bond between family. When you share so much of your life with another person (or people), as you do with your family, it’s not surprising to see such a strong connection between siblings.
Courage in the Face of Danger: When faced with demons, both literal and metaphorical, it is easy to want to give up and hide–or even run–away. And being afraid is not weakness, being able to admit fear in the face of adversity is the very definition of courage.
This story is one about family, about strength, and about compassion. Harland makes it clear that strength is not just physical, but emotional as well. With a plot that has both purpose and clarity, characters that are real and complex, and themes that are ubiquitous and important, The Ninth Circle is a story of family, of hardship, of tragedy, and of hope that will make you laugh, cry, and sigh with a mixture of disappointment and exasperation. I enjoyed watching the Morgenstern girls face both the demons of hell and their own internal demons and come out the other side stronger and more resolute than ever.
“As Tala stared at the name, she tried to figure out how she felt. It was something she’d never had to do before. She always knew what she was feeling. She didn’t have questions about herself. But now, she was unsure. There was sadness, obviously, and pain, and regret, and several other things that were so tangled up she couldn’t identify them. She wondered if Ava was experiencing the same thing, and if she would explain it. Aiva was better at things like feelings. But as she looked at her sister, Tala couldn’t bring herself to ask.”