Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo Summary, Characters and Themes

Hell Bent is the second book in Leigh Bardugo’s Alex Stern series, following Ninth House. It’s a dark fantasy novel set in an alternate version of Yale University where secret societies practice magic.

In the book, Galaxy “Alex” Stern is determined to rescue her mentor, Darlington, from purgatory after he was taken by a hell beast. Forbidden from attempting the rescue, Alex and her friend Dawes secretly assemble a team of questionable allies to navigate a maze of arcane texts and bizarre artifacts, seeking a way to break Darlington out of hell. As they delve deeper into the occult world of Yale’s societies, they uncover dark secrets and face dangerous threats, all while battling the monsters of Alex’s past and a sinister presence lurking within the university’s walls.


Hell Bent opens with Alex Stern determined to rescue her mentor, Darlington, from hell after a failed ritual. She and Dawes discover the Gauntlet, a portal to hell located in Sterling Library, and realize they need four murderers for the ritual. 

They recruit Detective Turner and Tripp, a former Skull and Bones member, with Mercy joining as their protector.

Alex faces extortion from Eitan Harel, a drug kingpin connected to her past, who tasks her with collecting a debt from Linus Reiter, a powerful vampire. She barely escapes with her life and learns that Reiter is connected to the original Gauntlet ritual.

On Halloween, the group performs the ritual, marking doorways with blood and experiencing surreal journeys through their memories. 

They find Darlington trapped in hell, but demonic wolves attack, forcing him to stay behind while they escape. Back in the real world, they are banished from the Lethe society by Anselm.

Haunted by guilt, Alex is attacked by a demon resembling her deceased friend, Hellie. 

She warns the others, and they work together to fend off the demons that followed them from hell. Turner provides information about a suspect in the professors’ murders, and Alex suspects Darlington is involved.

At Black Elm, Darlington’s childhood home, Alex discovers the truth about his past and encounters Anselm, who reveals himself as the demon Golgarot. 

Alex, as a Wheelwalker, fights Golgarot and restores Darlington’s soul to his body.

The group plans to use the Gauntlet again to trap the remaining demons. Darlington questions his identity and desires while warning Alex about the consequences of their actions.

In their final descent into hell, Alex outsmarts Golgarot and returns with the others to the mortal world. 

They clean up the supernatural aftermath, dispose of evidence, and deal with the consequences. 

Tripp is consumed by his demon but is spared as a vampire. They discover that Golgarot used Alex’s blood to keep the door between worlds open, setting the stage for a final confrontation with the demonic forces.

Hell Bent Summary


Galaxy “Alex” Stern

Alex is the protagonist of Hell Bent, a young woman grappling with a traumatic past and navigating the dangerous world of Yale’s secret societies. Her unique ability to see Grays (ghosts) and her resilience make her a compelling character. 

Throughout the novel, Alex’s determination to rescue Darlington from hell drives her actions, showcasing her loyalty and unwavering commitment to her friends. 

She constantly battles with the emotional and psychological scars from her past, making her a complex and relatable character.


Daniel Arlington V, or Darlington, is a pivotal figure in Hell Bent. Initially trapped in hell, his rescue becomes the central focus of the story. 

Darlington’s transformation throughout the novel is significant, as he grapples with the changes brought about by his time in hell. His complex relationship with Alex, marked by mentorship, affection, and a shared traumatic experience, adds depth to his character. 

Darlington’s knowledge of the occult world and his unwavering belief in Alex’s abilities make him a valuable ally in their perilous quest.


Dawes is a fellow Lethe member and Alex’s close friend. Her dedication to research and her unwavering support for Alex make her a vital part of the team. 

Dawes’s quiet strength and resourcefulness are invaluable in navigating the complexities of the occult world. 

Throughout the novel, she proves to be a reliable and loyal friend, willing to face any danger alongside Alex.

Detective Turner

Detective Turner is a pragmatic and skeptical police officer who reluctantly becomes involved in the supernatural events surrounding Yale’s secret societies. 

His initial disbelief in Alex’s abilities gradually transforms into a begrudging respect as he witnesses the truth firsthand. 

Turner’s involvement adds a grounded perspective to the fantastical elements of the story, highlighting the clash between the mundane and the magical.

Tripp Helmuth

Tripp is a former Skull and Bones member with a penchant for mischief and a surprising knowledge of the occult. 

His quirky personality and humorous demeanor provide comic relief amidst the dark and dangerous events of the novel. 

Despite his initial reluctance, Tripp proves to be a valuable asset to the group, utilizing his connections and knowledge to aid in their quest.

Mercy Zhao

Mercy is Alex’s roommate and confidante. 

Her initial ignorance of the secret societies and their activities provides a fresh perspective on the events unfolding around her. As she learns the truth, Mercy becomes a source of support for Alex, offering a safe space and understanding ear. 

Her character represents the bridge between the ordinary world and the hidden world of magic, emphasizing the impact of these extraordinary events on those outside the societies.


The Price of Power and the Burden of Responsibility

Throughout “Hell Bent,” the pursuit of power and its consequences are central themes. 

The characters, particularly Alex, grapple with the weight of their abilities and the moral dilemmas they entail. 

Alex’s journey to rescue Darlington from hell is driven by her sense of responsibility for his fate and her desire to use her powers for good. 

However, the novel also explores the darker side of power, as seen in the secret societies’ manipulative practices and the demons’ insatiable thirst for control. 

The characters learn that power comes at a cost, often requiring sacrifices and difficult choices. 

The burden of responsibility weighs heavily on Alex, as she navigates the complexities of her role as a medium and the potential for her abilities to be used for both good and evil. 

The novel ultimately suggests that true power lies not in dominance or control, but in understanding and accepting one’s limitations while striving to use one’s abilities for the greater good.

Friendship, Loyalty, and the Power of Human Connection

In the face of supernatural threats and personal demons, the bonds of friendship and loyalty serve as a source of strength and resilience for the characters in “Hell Bent.” 

Alex’s unwavering determination to save Darlington is fueled by their deep connection and shared experiences. The camaraderie between Alex, Dawes, Turner, and Tripp, despite their disparate backgrounds and personalities, showcases the power of unlikely alliances formed in the face of adversity. 

The novel also explores the complexities of friendship, as seen in Alex’s complicated relationship with Mercy and the shifting dynamics within the Lethe society. 

Ultimately, “Hell Bent” celebrates the importance of human connection and the transformative power of friendship in overcoming challenges and finding meaning in a world filled with darkness and uncertainty.

Identity, Trauma, and the Search for Self-Acceptance

“Hell Bent” delves into the complexities of identity and the lasting impact of trauma on individuals. Alex’s past experiences, particularly her difficult childhood and the loss of her friend Hellie, continue to haunt her. 

Throughout the novel, she grapples with guilt, self-doubt, and a lingering sense of unworthiness. The characters’ journeys into hell can be interpreted as metaphors for confronting their inner demons and past traumas. 

As they navigate the treacherous landscape of their own memories and fears, they are forced to confront the darker aspects of themselves and seek redemption. 

The novel suggests that true healing and self-acceptance can only be achieved by acknowledging and processing past traumas, rather than suppressing or ignoring them.

The Conflict Between Tradition and Progress, Order and Chaos

The clash between tradition and progress is evident in the contrasting ideologies of the Lethe society and the forces of chaos represented by the demons. 

The Lethe, with its rigid hierarchy and adherence to ancient rituals, seeks to maintain order and control over the supernatural world. However, their methods are often questioned, and their pursuit of power sometimes leads to morally ambiguous decisions. 

The demons, on the other hand, embody chaos and destruction, seeking to disrupt the established order and exploit the vulnerabilities of the human world. 

The novel explores the tension between these opposing forces, suggesting that a balance between tradition and progress, order and chaos, is necessary for a harmonious coexistence.