Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Series: The Scholomance #1

Publisher: Del Rey

Published: September 2020

Pages: 304


In the start of an all-new series, the bestselling author of Uprooted and Spinning Silver introduces you to a dangerous school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death – until one girl begins to rewrite its rules.

Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered.

There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal.

Once you’re inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.

El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school’s many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions – never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.

Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying her hardest not to use it… that is, unless she has no other choice.

Wry, witty, endlessly inventive, and mordantly funny – yet with a true depth and fierce justice at its heart – this enchanting novel reminds us that there are far more important things than mere survival.

My Thoughts…

CW: this book contains mentions of violence and death.

I read and loved both Uprooted and Spinning Silver, so I was really looking forward to Naomi Novik’s new series on a magical school. If you loved Hogwarts but felt that sometimes the children were exposed to just a tad too much mortal danger, you’ll probably feel differently after seeing the Scholomance. This school makes Hogwarts look like a kindergarten filled with fluffy, cuddly animals.

The Scholomance is a school with no headmasters or teachers, and no one to protect the students from the deadly attacks of the maleficaria, malevolent creatures who feed off magical power and continually infiltrate the school to feast on the young wizards. The school is run entirely by magic and located in a void. Fail to study, keep up with your assignments and protect yourself from maleficaria and you won’t make it out alive.

I loved the worldbuilding. This world is incredibly complex and originally weaved together, while at the same time drawing from existing traditions. Despite its complexity, I felt like I really could understand how things worked and why characters would make certain choices or behave in the way they did, even if it wasn’t always in the best or most moral way. It just made sense within that context. One thing that did annoy me though was the info dumps. While some of them were undoubtedly needed to give the background needed to understand what was happening, there were just too many of them.

My favourite thing in the book was definitely the main character. Galadriel “El” is exactly the kind of unlikeable protagonist I love. She is smart and spiky, determined to survive by following her own rules. I really enjoyed the book being told from her POV, and her highly sarcastic narrating voice made me laugh more often than I would have expected given the horrific nature of some of the scenes. I also found it refreshing to have a “Chosen One” who is destined for great evil instead of good – but is actively trying to resist being drawn down that path.

El’s character was beautifully constructed and I really loved her arc, as well as seeing the evolution of her relationships with the other students as she goes from being a complete loner to unwillingly being at the centre of everyone’s attention, courtesy of local hero Orion Lake. The interactions between Orion and El were some of the funniest in the whole book, and I loved to see their relationship develop.

I also really liked how the author included a veiled (and sometimes not-so-veiled) commentary on social inequalities, economic disparities and privilege in the book. Some of the students come from important families who banded together in “enclaves” and, as a result, have access to massive wealth and resources to help them survive – as well as guaranteeing a safe space for them when they leave the Scholomance – to the detriment, outright exploitation and sometimes death of the poorer, less well-connected students.

They wanted to be safe. It’s not that much to ask, it feels like. But we don’t have it to begin with, and to get it and keep it, they’d push another kid into the dark. One enclave would push another into the dark for that, too. And they didn’t stop at safety, either. They wanted comfort, and then they wanted luxury, and then they wanted excess, and every step of the way they still wanted to be safe, even as they made themselves more and more of a tempting target, and the only way they could stay safe was to have enough power to keep everyone off that wanted what they had.

I know there has been some controversy around the way in which certain characters were portrayed and that some depictions and comments were offensive. As a white reader, I don’t feel it’s really my place to comment on this, but if you’re interested in knowing more, A Naga of the Nusantara wrote an excellent review that I personally found very helpful to understand this a bit better.

Overall, I really enjoyed A Deadly Education, even though I had some minor issues with it (I’m looking at you, info dumps!). I’m really intrigued by this series, and I can’t wait to read the next book.

Rating: 4/5

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