Title: A Deadly Education
Series: The Scholomance #1
Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: September 29th, 2020 (Del Rey Books)
Synopsis: 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.
“Some sorcerers get an affinity for weather magic, or transformation spells, or fantastic combat magics like dear Orion. I got an affinity for mass destruction.”
Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted, is unlike any other. The real goal is survival, because there’s no leaving Scholomance unless you graduate or get killed by one of the monsters lying in wait everywhere. Galadriel, or El for short, is determined to navigate the complex politics of this already stressful school life and get herself into an alliance that will help her survive graduation by proving herself to be a useful addition to any group. Her plans, however, keep getting sidetracked by resident white knight, Orion Lake, who has taken to swooping in repeatedly to the rescue, turning her into some kind of damsel in distress, which just won’t do. While El has no friends or allies, she certainly has the potential to be the most powerful student in the school and take out the worst monsters there – except for the fact that her affinity tends towards mass destruction, and following her call would almost certainly end in her becoming a dark sorceress, possibly killing all the other students.
This was my first time reading a book by Naomi Novik, and all I can say is, I really should have tried one of her books long ago. This was fantastic! I especially loved her writing style and the world-building is so good! I went into this expecting a twisted version of Hogwarts and I guess I was somewhat right. Imagine Hogwarts as a school that’s not only sentient and moody, but also infested with monsters on the prowl for any students who let their guard down – so you do need to check under your bed to make sure nothing’s hiding there – and you have the Scholomance. And that’s not even getting into the world of the enclaves, the protected zones where the privileged live – a luxury that also puts those elite students from enclave families a step above the rest inside the school, and so much more. In just about 300 pages, Naomi Novik has managed to put together such an intricate and intriguing setting for this story, making the concept of a magical school so refreshingly new, throwing the students into a literal “study or die” scenario.
“I love having existential crises at bedtime, it’s so restful.”
Despite the bloodshed and horror that the premise promises, it was hilarious. The witty banter, dark humour, and unexpected twists, along with some wonderful characters bring together one truly fascinating read. El is both an excellent character and narrator, and despite her tendency to be abrasive and downright ungrateful at times, you can’t help but root for her. She is a largely unsociable person, and as El’s backstory is slowly revealed, we understand that she is wary of others due to being shunned for no fault of her own, and as a result has resorted to these means to protect herself. Her snarky, sarcastic voice drew me into the story immediately and her character arc as she begins to come out of her shell and make friends somewhat unwillingly, was a very interesting one to follow.
Orion, on the other hand, was not a character that I liked initially. It appeared that he was showing off, but is really just a clueless, reckless, well-meaning, overly heroic fool that really wants to help and he ultimately goes from horrendously annoying to completely adorable. I’m still trying to figure out how that happened actually.
My main complaint with this book is that the chapters are too long. If you’re like me and can’t stop reading until the chapter is over, this becomes a real problem. I would also say that there were certain sections of the story which did not need to be as long as they were, and could have been way more condensed. However, I did enjoy the hilariously awkward romance, such as it was, and it was extremely amusing watching El and Orion be either oblivious or thoroughly dense by turn.
While it didn’t end on a cliffhanger precisely, it was certainly an interesting twist and I’m really looking forward to finding out how El and her friends’ final year at Scholomance is going to go. Overall, I very much enjoyed this roller coaster ride that was fun and thrilling in equal parts and I would highly recommend it for fantasy fans.
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
Other reviews in this series: