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Thursday, November 17, 2022

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik - Review

OFFICIAL AUTHOR WEBSITE
Buy A Deadly Education HERE


OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO:  Naomi Novik is the acclaimed New York Times-bestselling author of the Nebula Award-winning novel Uprooted, Spinning Silver, and the nine-volume Temeraire series, as well as a founder of the Archive of Our Own. Her upcoming book The Golden Enclaves is the third of the Scholomance trilogy, and will be available September 2022.

FORMAT/INFO:  A Deadly Education was published on September 29th, 2020 by Del Rey Books. It is 336 pages split over 13 chapters. It is told in first person from El's POV. It is available in hardcover, paperback, ebook and audiobook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The students at Scholomance study like their lives depend on it – because they actually do. The school is constantly under attack from monsters that want nothing more than to kill the students and suck their magic dry. Being locked in a heavily warded school provides some protection, but you never know when a “mal” will break in. Students will do anything to survive, whether that means forming an alliance or leaving another student to be a meal while they escape. El has always been an outsider, unwelcome in any of the school cliques, until she discovers a book with a lost magic spell that could be her ticket into any alliance she wants.

A Deadly Education is a thrilling adventure that won me over just for the sheer fun of it. Its premise is almost satirical in nature: how many books with magic schools have their students in deadly peril when there are plenty of adults around to step in? A Deadly Education just removes adult supervision from the equation, instead turning the premise into a very effective blend of Hunger Games and Harry Potter.

Smartly, El is a junior when the book starts, making her well-used to the proclivities of the school and how it operates, while still a ways off from leaving. As the story is first-person, she deftly explains concepts as necessary to the reader, easily getting the audience on board with how the school functions. There were a lot of inventive elements I liked, from the way the school floors shift downwards every school year, bringing students closer and closer to the exit, to the way spells are swapped like trading cards. Every student is on their own curriculum, devised by a blend of the student’s interests and strengths and the school’s own magical decisions, therefore not every student learns the same spells, leading to a bartering market of swapping spells for spells or spells for favors.

Novik does a fantastic job of painting a picture of the absolute constant stress these characters are in. Monsters (or “mals” as they are called) may literally pop up in any situation, whether you are getting food in the cafeteria or walking to your next class. As El remarks at one point, there’s no worry about students not doing their homework, because the spells they are learning might one day save their lives. As the school year draws to an end and the seniors begin contemplating graduation (a literal run to the exit through a hall of monsters), you can see the cracks appearing in the students' resolve and sanity, as they begin contemplating what lines they’ll cross for their own survival. 

I was unsure of how I felt about lead character El at first. With an affinity for death magics that she refuses to use (much less tell anybody about), I was worried she was falling into that trap of characters who talk a big game but don’t come across that threatening in the end (like the assassin characters who never kill anyone). Thankfully, El’s refusal to use her magic specialty feeds into her own social insecurities, a self-perpetuating loop of isolation where El pushes everyone away with snark and sneers. If you hate snarky characters, this book may rub you the wrong way, but I found the growing cracks in El’s armor as she grapples with her isolation made her incredibly relatable.

I’d say my one complaint about the book is that it so constantly keeps the stakes at 11 that it never feels like there’s a proper climax. There’s certainly an Event that happens at the end, but it doesn’t really stand out from all the other monster attacks and general peril.

CONCLUSION: A Deadly Education is a fast-paced thrill ride that embraces the chaos and madness of the premise. While I would never want to attend Scholomance personally (the constant stress would do me in) I loved my time in this book and immediately ordered the sequel when I was done. I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a series that promises to just be a madcap adventure, and I look forward to seeing where book two takes the plot from here!

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