On a cold January night, Alex oversees a magical ritual performed by Skull and Bones, one of Yale’s eight secret societies that practice occult magic. She is trying to do her job as a deputy of Lethe, but she’s in way over her head ever since her mentor Darlington went missing. Things go from bad to worse when she gets a call from Dawes: Tara Hutchins, a young New Haven resident, has been murdered on campus.
Reluctantly, Alex visits the crime scene. Tara’s mutilated body was found on an empty patch of land in front of the university gym, and her drug-dealing boyfriend, Lance, is the obvious suspect. Detective Turner doesn’t want Alex involved and insists the girl is “town” and none of Lethe’s concern. But something about the crime scene doesn’t sit right and Tara—a young girl caught in desperate circumstances—reminds Alex of Hellie, the girl she loved dearly and lost tragically in a mass homicide that left all of Alex’s friends dead.
Alex has never needed her mentor more. But where is Darlington? Though Alex and Darlington began the school year with little more than wariness and contempt for each other, they had started to build a fragile trust. Alex was born with a gift that Darlington envies. Darlington comes from a background of wealth and privilege that Alex hungers after. But she can respect his intellect and he can respect her grit. Until one fateful night when they’re called to investigate a disturbance in the basement of Rosenfeld Hall. During what should be a routine call, Darlington disappears into a portal leaving Alex on her own and Dawes reeling. Dean Sandow believes they can rescue him and bring him back to their realm through a ritual performed on the new moon. Until then, Alex is going to have to manage on her own.
Unaware of the real challenges Alex is facing, Professor Belbalm wants her to focus on her grades and her future, but Alex can’t let go of the mystery of Tara’s murder. She knows Darlington would want her to dig deeper and she drags Dawes into the investigation. By interrogating the dopey Tripp Helmuth of Skull and Bones, Alex learns Tara and Lance were selling weed to people on campus—some of them society members. They were also tangled up with Scroll and Key, creating hallucinogenic drugs to assist in portal magic.
But it’s much worse than that. Turns out that Tara and Lance were messing around with illegal (and magical) drugs of all varieties—a fact that becomes brutally clear when Alex’s roommate Mercy is sexually assaulted by a cruel fratboy named Blake. Blake had been using a compulsion drug he got from Tara and her boyfriend to assault young women and make it look like they were sober and consenting. Alex publicly humiliates Blake, but she knows that the drug originated with Manuscript—that makes three societies Tara had connections to. She knew too much. So did someone kill Tara to shut her up?
Alex is determined to find out, and with Dawes’s aid, enlists the help of the notorious Gray known as the Bridegroom. They strike a bargain in the borderlands between life and death: if Alex will help clear his name and find out what really happened to his fiancé, Daisy, the Bridegroom will help Alex solve Tara’s murder. And there’s one other thing: the ghost insists Darlington was investigating the Bridegroom’s case before he disappeared.
If the Bridegroom is innocent, Alex definitely isn’t, and she knows much more about the night Darlington vanished than she’s been letting on.
How did Alex Stern survive that bloody massacre? In a life full of abuse and misery, Alex had one bright spot: Hellie, a golden California girl who fell in with Alex and her awful boyfriend Len. But in an attempt to impress his powerful supplier, the Israeli gangster Eitan Harel, Len offered Hellie up to Eitan’s cousin Ariel, and Hellie ended up dead of a drug overdose. Driven by rage and loss, Alex used a power she never knew she had and drew Hellie’s ghost into her body. Full of strength and fury, she murdered every living being on the property, and with Hellie’s guidance, disposed of the evidence. The police want to know what happened at that sorry apartment building in Van Nuys. The ruthless Eitan Harel wants to know what happened to his cousin. But the crime remains unsolved.
Until that night in the basement of Rosenfeld Hall, when Alex lets it slip that Hellie was left-handed-just as the killer was. Alex was no innocent victim. She killed them all—and Darlington knows it. Alex used the strength of Hellie’s spirit to commit a horrific crime. Will he reveal her secrets to Lethe and cost Alex her place at Lethe and Yale? We’ll never know. Darlington walks right into a portal and vanishes, and when Alex has a chance to save him, she freezes. Or does she? Not even she is certain.
Whatever choices Alex made that night, she is determined to try to bring Darlington back. She knows he has the skills and knowledge to figure out who killed Tara and to protect Alex—because whoever murdered Tara may be after Alex now too. On the night of the new moon, she joins Dawes and Dean Sandow to perform the ritual at Black Elm, Darlington’s beloved home. It goes terribly wrong and a hellbeast appears instead. Sandow casts a spell banishing the monster from the house and Dawes and Alex return home defeated, sure now that Darlington didn’t walk into a portal at all. He was consumed by a hellbeast and no mortal can survive in hell. The gentleman of Lethe is dead.
Dawes and Alex take refuge at Lethe’s headquarters, the 19th century mansion they call Il Bastone, until Blake Keely, the smug fratboy who used Tara’s magic drugs to assault Mercy, breaks into the house and attacks Alex. Alex is nearly killed and Dean Sandow is badly injured. But Dawes saves them all by smashing Blake’s head in with a marble bust.
While Alex and Dawes are recovering in the hospital, Detective Turner and Dean Sandow fill them in on Blake’s erratic behavior. They believe he killed Tara. While the societies—Scroll and Key who used outsiders to try to fix their wonky portal magic and Manuscript who let dangerous drugs fall into criminal hands—will receive a slap on the wrist, there will be no real justice for Tara or Mercy or Alex or Darlington. Dawes goes home to Connecticut to recuperate. Alex hides out in the Hutch, a Lethe apartment just off campus, wounded and completely lost.
Worried about Alex, Mercy reaches out to her mother Mira. They help Alex get cleaned up and rally and return to classes. But during a lecture, she is confronted by the Bridegroom who she has been trying to ignore. He forcibly possesses her, and when she emerges from a kind of trance, she has a bloody nose, and she has scrawled a series of dates on her notebook.
She flees to Il Bastone and puts together the dates with Darlington’s research. Each society is built over a nexus that allows them access to the magic that powers their rituals. Without a nexus, a society is just a fancy building and a bunch of jerks in cloaks. But Darlington had discovered that each nexus formed at the sight of a young woman’s death—the Bridegroom’s fiancé Daisy was the first to die. Were the other deaths from natural causes? Or were they the victims of some kind of centuries—old serial killer? One thing is certain: Tara was killed to create a nexus, and Alex is sure that Dean Sandow did it. He used compulsion to get Blake to attack Alex and Dawes so that Blake would take the fall. He sent the hellbeast to consume Darlington because he knew Darlington would make the connection between Tara’s death and a new nexus.
Alex goes to a faculty party to confront the dean. He admits to Tara’s murder. He was financially strapped after his divorce and St. Elmo’s offered him money if he could create a new nexus. He had thought one would occur on its own, but when it didn’t, he tried to perform a ritual to rush the process. They’re interrupted by Professor Belbalm, Alex’s academic advisor. But Belbalm is somehow immune to the dean’s magical compulsion. Because she’s not Belbalm at all. She is the Bridegroom’s fiancé, Daisy, who has been consuming the souls of young women to stay alive for over a hundred years. She has the same power as Alex—not just to see the dead but to use them as Alex used Hellie’s spirit. Instead of using the strength of the dead, Daisy consumes the spirits of the living. She is a Wheelwalker and so were several of the young women she consumed. Their souls are the most powerful and Daisy can’t wait to devour Alex.
On the brink of losing her soul to Daisy, Alex calls upon the dead, welcoming them as she never has before. They rise to her defense and descend upon Daisy, demanding she release the souls she consumed so that they can find peace. Daisy is obliterated. The dean is dead by Belbalm’s hand. Alex has survived and flees, leaving Turner to find the dean’s body.
As the book ends, Dawes and Alex attend Dean Sandow’s funeral. Alex can hear the dead as well as see them now, but she’s keeping this, and the whole idea of a Wheelwalker a secret from Lethe. At the funeral, Alex tells Dawes and Michelle Alameddine—Darlington’s former Lethe mentor—that she doesn’t think Darlington is dead. She believes he survived in hell by becoming a demon and she’s going to go get him.
It’s time to break Darlington out of hell. Join Alex for the next chapter in Hell Bent.