Cover of Hell Bent, featuring a frightening white rabbit on a grey background

About the Book

Title: Hell Bent (Alex Stern #2)
Published: 2023

Cover Story: Uncanny
BFF Charm: Natalie Imbruglia
Talky Talk: A+ Adulting
Bonus Factors: Friendships, Collections
Anti-Bonus Factor: Men (and Men-Shaped Creatures)
Relationship Status: I’m a Believer

Content Warning: There are scenes/mentions of sexual, physical, and mental abuse, drug use, suicide, murder, and general violence (both human and paranormal) in Hell Bent that might be triggering for some readers.

Red alert! Hell Bent is the second book in the Alex Stern series. If you have not read the first book in the series (Ninth House), man your battle stations turn away now, as there might be spoilers in this review. If you’re caught up, however, feel free to continue below.

Cover Story: Uncanny

I do not feel comfortable around this cover. It’s beautiful in its unsightliness, and I’m drawn to it, but I do not want to come across it in a dark basement when I’m looking for my extra flashlight.

The Deal: 

Galaxy “Alex” Stern now knows that magic is real, and the fact that she can see ghosts is not a figment of her troubled mind. She’s fully a part of Yale’s secret (paranormal) societies but doesn’t feel like she’s welcome or that she’ll ever truly belong. And although she’ll never tell them, she only feels at home with the other members of Lethe, particularly Darlington. 

Who’s currently in Hell.

BFF Charm: Natalie Imbruglia

BFF charm with Natalie Imbruglia's face.

Alex continues to be the kind of woman I kind of wish I was. Not the troubled parts—which are Troubled—but the badass, take no prisoners, I’m literally going to Hell because my friend’s there and he shouldn’t be, parts. I want to have that sort of brash, brazen confidence. Alex would probably laugh if I told her that, though—being in her head makes me understand how much of her bravado is really a defense mechanism. Knowing that, and knowing how hard it can be to get into Alex’s very small circle of trusted people, makes me wary of even imagining an attempt at becoming her friend. But I truly think she’s worth it. Maybe. Probably.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Anyone who’s already read this book is probably side-eying me right now for giving this book such high marks on the swoon scale. And anyone who’s yet to read it should definitely take the 7 with a grain of salt. Because there is not really any swoon in this book, other than a few offhand mentions/not fully formed thought processes that lean toward swoon. But DAMN if there’s not chemistry between Alex and Darlington. (This isn’t just me shipping them really hard, is it? I’m not imagining that they’re endgame?)

Talky Talk: A+ Adulting

As y’all well know (or will know in a moment), I am a huge fan of Bardugo’s books. Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom are books I will always mention when asked to list favorites, and I’m always in awe of her imagination and worldbuilding. So when I was slightly disappointed with Ninth House, I worried that moving into the adult age group had somehow changed the magic I’d come to expect (and adore) from Bardugo. That perhaps she wanted so badly to disconnect from the Grishaverse that she’d gone somewhere I didn’t really want to follow. I didn’t hate the book, mind you, but I was left with a slightly weird taste in my mouth after finishing it.

I’m happy to announce that our parasocial platonic love affair is back on track now and better than ever. Aside from a slightly rushed ending (that, thankfully isn’t the end of the series)—and a weird and very graphic repeated depiction of someone’s, uh, member—I adored Hell Bent. Perhaps I’m in a different mindset than I was back in 2019, hardened by years of pandemic life. The magic felt magical, the characters real (and really flawed, in the best of ways) and the story engaged me from the very start. I was worried that the ending wrapped things up too nicely, but seeing on Goodreads that there will be a third book (at least) to the series makes me feel better that not everything is wrapped up and there’s more to come.

Bonus Factor: Friendships

Characters from Baby-Sitters' Club show sitting on a bed talking and laughing.

Alex isn’t a really great friend, but some of the side plots in Hell Bent focus on her relationships with Dawes and with Mercy (one of her roommates). It’s great to see such a solitary character who’s often single-minded in her actions valuing the people in her life that help to round her out.

Bonus Factor: Collections

I want, so badly, to root around in Lethe’s collection of magical and paranormal items and to visit the library in Il Bastone with its magical (and sentient?) filing system. While I like to pretend that I’d be a Dante or a Virgil, were I also in Lethe, I’d much more likely be an Oculus, content to hang around home base cataloging and researching.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Men (and Men-Shaped Creatures)

A young woman in a pink hat holds up a protest sign that reads "Smash the Patriarchy"

Too many men (and men-shaped creatures) in Alex’s life are the worst kind of men: abusers and users who throw their bulk around, both literally and figuratively, to get their way. Thank goodness she has examples of better dudes in Darlington and Turner—neither of whom are perfect, mind you, but they’re a far sight better than others.

Relationship Status: I’m a Believer

I had my doubts about us, Book—were we just too different to make it work? I’m grateful I moved past those initial misgivings, because they, and I, were wrong. In this case, first impressions were incorrect, and we’re on our way to a truly good thing.

Literary Matchmaking

Shadow and Bone (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy #1)

If you’re coming to Bardugo’s writing through her adult books, definitely check out her YA, too, starting with Shadow and Bone.

House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)

The protagonist of Sarah J. Maas’s (adult) Crescent City series is a badass equal to that of Alex Stern.

The Shadows Between Us

And Tricia Levenseller’s The Shadows Between Us is YA, but the main character is just as morally grey—and willing to do whatever it takes—as Alex.

FTC Full Disclosure: I bought a copy of this book with my own money and got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Hell Bent is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.