a deadly education

Tuesday, July 6, 2021 |

Does author Naomi Novik need an introduction? Just in case you are new here, she wrote the enormously successful Temeraire series (Napoleonic wars + dragons), as well as reimagined fairy tales Uprooted and Spinning Silver. Novik also writes fantastic fanfic – I especially love her Harry/Draco HP fic and Jaime/Brienne GOT fic. And while I’ve had a mixed reaction to her published novels, as soon as I heard that her latest title A Deadly Education (in the new Scholomance series) was a take on Harry Potter, with a dark Hermione Granger character, I was HOOKED. I preordered the book 8 months early, convinced my sister to buy it as well… and then when it arrived at the start of the pandemic-altered 2020-21 school year, I looked at it longingly and said… I’ll read that later. Later ended up being after the end of the school year, but I finally did it! And I just want to say that A Deadly Education is enormously interesting and fun, and I can’t wait for the sequel.


Lesson One of the Scholomance: Learning has never been this deadly. 

A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. 

There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. 

El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.


What is this book? Short version: it’s the story of Galadriel (or El, for short), who has survived to the end of her junior year at a deadly magical school called Scholomance, and desperately wants to make it out alive – but is hampered by her affinity for hugely destructive magics (and her unwillingness to “go bad”), her status as an outcast, and her upbringing as an indie kid, without the protection of a magical enclave to shield her from some of the dangers of life and school. El’s run-in with Orion Lake, school hero, changes everything. El’s strategy for survival will have to change, and fast, if she wants to make it out of Scholomance alive!


A Deadly Education is the magic school slaughterhouse of your dreams – or maybe your nightmares?? The setup of the school, its secrets, history, and architecture, are intricately imagined and described, and that will appeal to the love of world-building for most fantasy fans. There are partial map cross-sections as the endpapers, and illustrations of student rooms at the end of the book as well. Novik manages another difficult task simultaneously – she never info-dumps, and the plot and characterization are fast-paced and deep, respectively. As the reader gets to know Scholomance and its politics, and the world which would create such a deadly school, El is navigating its mal-infested hallways and trying to decide whether anyone’s intentions are pure (she thinks not!). The pacing is fabulous, and the tension ratchets up continuously – sometimes in predictable ways, and sometimes in surprising ones. Novik, and El, keep the reader guessing.


What I liked: El. She is constantly (constantly!) making up for her lower status, and it makes her resourceful and clever. I fell in love with the push-pull of her inner monologue, watching her work with/against her affinity handicap, and her either rude or calculating reactions to the other students she encountered. I cheered when she accidentally made friends, and wanted nothing so much as another whole book about her to keep the momentum (and enjoyment!) going. 


I also loved the world of the Scholomance itself. The school feels utterly original and yet pulled from the best parts of other magical school stories. It is rich in monsters, be they human or magic-created, and there is room for many histories and stories within the school itself, and in a world populated by those who have survived the trauma of such a school. If the novel wasn’t quite so violent, it might slot in nicely as a YA book – it deals easily with the conundrum of removing parents and other adults to inspire independence in young characters by creating a school that doesn’t require them at all.


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the valid criticism of representation and stereotypes in this book. Before I ever picked it up, I read excerpts about harmful stereotypes within the book: the way El (a person of color) “hisses” language, of Black hairstyles such as dreadlocks depicted as nests for dangerous mals, and more. A Deadly Education is not perfect. I enjoyed it despite its issues, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that I knew of them before reading, and I kept them in mind while reading, and I still enjoyed the reading experience. This is, for me, an exercise in liking (or perhaps loving!) a flawed thing, while still holding myself accountable as a reader. I’m interested to see if any others also had this experience?


In all, A Deadly Education is a ridiculously enjoyable roller coaster ride of a book. I already preordered the sequel!


Recommended for: fans of resourceful heroes and heroines who are caustic and clever, those who liked Sarah Rees Brennan’s In Other Lands and other tales of magical schools, and anyone who likes their coming of age with a punch and a fantastical edge.

1 comment:

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

I too have had a mixed reaction to Novik's published novels -- not that I've DISliked them at all, but I have thought she could use an editor to get the length down, and I've been somewhat unhappy with the general tenor of her romances. But a school book is always right up my alley!

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