Title: The Last Graduate
Series: The Scholomance #2
Author: Naomi Novik
Published: September 28th, 2021 (Del Rey Books)
Synopsis: A budding dark sorceress determined not to use her formidable powers uncovers yet more secrets about the workings of her world in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education, the start of Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking crossover series.
At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year – and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules…
“I was still in the Scholomance, and all the miracles in here come with price tags.”
El has survived three years at the Scholomance and now faces her final year, with the dreaded and deadly graduation run just around the corner. She is no longer alone however, and in the past year, has gained a small group of trusted allies with whom she plans to make the run. But the school itself seems to have it out for her this year, tossing what seems to be every mal within the walls of the Scholomance at her and she is spending more time fighting them and protecting a group of inexperienced freshmen who have inexplicably ended up in one of her classes rather than preparing and building up her mana for graduation. While she continues to struggle against her natural affinity towards darker and more destructive spells as the Scholomance challenges her more than ever before, placing difficult choices in her path, El begins to suspect that the school’s motives behind these latest actions might not be what it seems.
It has been over two weeks since I finished this book and I’m still not over it. With how fantastic the opening book of this trilogy was, this second installment was prime material for a sophomore slump, and my biggest reservation going into this book, despite how highly anticipated it was, was that it wouldn’t be able to match up. There was no need to worry however, as The Last Graduate took everything I loved about the first book and built on it, resulting in a riveting sequel. This was a magnificent read that managed to completely surpass the sky high expectations I had for it. It was wonderful to return to the world of the Scholomance and all these familiar characters, and the funny thing is, I remembered every detail of the first book despite it being over a year since I read it. Now that I knew what to expect from this book in terms of narrative style, the long chapters didn’t bother me nearly as much and I was able to slow down and enjoy the rich world building, intricate character development, and ingenious plot. El’s voice was fantastic – it was so snarky and realistic and brings that dark humor to the narrative that I so loved in the first book, making this an absolute pleasure to read.
“Everyone else was still on board for exactly the same reason everyone was ever on board with anything in here, which was exactly the same reason everyone ever put themselves into this hellpit of a school, and that’s because it was better than the alternatives. That was all I could be: the lesser evil.”
The once friendless and lonely Galadriel now has an alliance, though a small one, to support her, and the problem of immediate, day-to-day survival is not something she needs to worry about anymore. With more resources and the assurance that someone has her back, she starts to move away from the ‘every man for himself’ mentality largely prevalent throughout the school and starts to tentatively look out for others too, considering the bigger picture and wondering if the unwritten rules of surviving the Scholomance can be changed after all. She remains a cynical, unsociable person, still very slow to trust, but The Last Graduate brings out the real El we all knew was hiding behind that caustic, snarky veneer. Galadriel taking the path of the reluctant hero was a complete surprise to me, as despite her character growth in the first book, I didn’t think she had come quite that far just yet – but between her and Orion, they do make a fine pair.
“He’d been trained to think he was only good if he ran around being a hero all the time. Naturally as soon as he dared think about what he might want, surely that made him a monster. But as someone who’s been told she’s a monster from almost all corners from quite early on, I know perfectly well the only sensible thing to do when self-doubt creeps into your own head is to repress it with great violence.”
Speaking of Orion, he had less page time than I expected to see, but what we did get was such perfection. While it was initially amusing to see how he sulked for so much of the book because nothing was attacking him and he wasn’t getting to kill any mals, the character that went from annoying to adorable in the first book takes a turn into a rather painful character arc as we got a glimpse into his thoughts and found out the real reason behind his hero complex and how it was shaped by the weight of expectations that continue to weigh down upon him. His and El’s hilariously awkward romance continued to be one of the highlights of the story for me, and while it wasn’t necessarily the focus of the story, I thought it was really well done. I am genuinely stressed out to know how it’s going to work out for the two of them now, especially with that whole ‘dark sorceress’ prediction still hanging over El’s head – the events of this book certainly opened up a few scenarios where I can see that happening.
This was the kind of book where I didn’t even bother trying to predict what was coming because 1) the plot twists were so unexpected and near impossible to foresee and 2) it was more fun to go with the flow of the story and let myself be surprised, shocked and completely overwhelmed by it. I went back to check my reading notes for the climax of this book and it is literally incoherent babble that more or less boils down to ‘I can’t believe that just happened!’. I honestly should have expected such an evil and unexpected cliffhanger of this book given how ominous the chapter titles were becoming and I don’t know how I’m going to survive a whole year to get some answers after that ending – the unanswered questions and possibilities ahead are driving me nuts and I need the next book now!! 😭😭😭😭 5 stars for a phenomenal read. This book was an easy addition to my best of year shelf and I can’t recommend it enough!
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
Other reviews in this series: