Review: A Deadly Education

Posted: July 19, 2021 by in Books We Love (4.6/5 single_star) Meta: Naomi Novik, Fantasy, Young Adult

Galadriel, or in A DEADLY EDUCATION she’s known as “El”, is a junior at The Scholomance, a school of magic. You can think Hogwarts if you want, but instead of summer holidays or weekend trips for butterbeer, the students must ward their bedroom or else be eaten by magical creatures who consider young students a tasty snack. When students graduate, they face a gauntlet of the worst magical and student-eating baddies the school has to offer, and if they don’t have an alliance or an arsenal of spells ready, they won’t make it. The school matriculation rate is pretty abysmal.

At least until Orion Lake came along, whose affinity for fighting magical baddies has kept the student population, if not at 100%, has at least given the kids inside a fighting chance. Even El has been saved from the occasional baddie by Orion a few times now, even when she didn’t need it, and it’s made her downright cranky. Who does he think he is, anyway? If only he knew about El’s affinity. Think “love me and despair.” Which, actually, isn’t too far off from Orion’s suspicion that she’s siphoning off the life force of her fellow students to power her own magic, so he sticks close to keep an eye on her. What he doesn’t expect (or El, either) is that her annoyed attitude toward him–compared to the fawning of the rest of the student population–is refreshing and honest. Will this lead to friendship? Or maybe something more?

Naomi Novik just gets better with every book. I loved her UPROOTED (EBR Review) and SPINNING SILVER (EBR Review), and of course her Temeraire books. A DEADLY EDUCATION combines all that we loved about Hogwarts but takes it to a (ridiculous? maybe not) logical conclusion that magic is crazy dangerous and that there’s more to learning about it than potions and defense against the dark arts. Novik dumps the reader straight into the Scholomance world, with its convoluted rules (sometimes over-the-top, but it’s all in good fun), most of which the students have to learn the hard way, and if they don’t, they will die a painful and horrible death. Conservation of mana is a thing (seriously, Rowling, how was this never considered?), and it actually plays a big part in El’s life. She can’t cast without it, but it’s not easy to come by, and her lone wolf lifestyle makes it hard to pool resources with others. It’s fascinating to watch her navigate the world she lives in while trying to live up to her mother’s expectations.

El’s personality starts off grating (she can sure be a whiner) but as you get to know her, you understand what’s beneath that gruff exterior, and come to realize why the other students respect her–and even why Orion is fascinated with her. Watching her grow during the course of the novel is a true coming-of-age story, even if it is a horror-ridden setting (honestly, I cannot wait to see how she progresses in the second book). Orion’s personality arc isn’t as pronounced, mostly because the POV is from El, but it’s still interesting to see how El helps him to understand himself better, and well as help him understand how he relates to other people. As the reader begins to understand him better, it’s easy to see why El doesn’t mind having him around, even if she starts off the book wanting to kill him off.

We meet El, a witch in training, in A DEADLY EDUCATION, where magical schooling means survival of the most ruthless.

The story gets a little bogged down in the middle (not unusual for a Novik book, but be patient, she’s laying important groundwork), otherwise the story moves forward at a steady pace, and by the halfway mark it starts to pick up steam and I stayed up too late to finish the book. The story didn’t go where I expected, which I liked, because Novik always does better than I can imagine for myself. She sets the story up well for the sequel–there are just the two books–and I fully expect awesome things from El during graduation.

  • Recommended Age: 13+
  • Language: A handful of f-bombs
  • Violence: Fighting and death, but not gory
  • Sex: Referenced

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