The Scholomance #1

Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Publication Date: September 29, 2020

Summary from Goodreads:

Lesson One of the Scholomance: Learning has never been this deadly.

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.

Confession:

This book was wickedly good. It was a little hard to get into, but once you do, you find yourself totally immersed in this world and rooting for the survival of everyone. This is a magic school unlike any other, and you will be enthralled by the characters and the story till the very end.

“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.”

Naomi Novik, A Deadly Education

Galadriel, or El, as she likes to be called, is the sole narrator of this story. She is an amazingly well done character. She has this dark power that she constantly has to keep in check, and this is what forms her isolationist attitude towards the other students. But since it is unsafe to walk anywhere or be anywhere in this school alone, she has to form some alliances in order to survive. It is interesting to see how her emotions about the students that she allies herself with, from just someone to help protect herself to true friends. El is a bit hard to take at times, she is abrasive and sarcastic, even when others are trying to be friendly, but I do believe that deep down there is something good in her.

“Oh, how I’d enjoyed all that sweet crisp righteous anger, my favorite drug: I’d nearly ridden the high straight into murder.”

Naomi Novik, A Deadly Education

Orion is probably the second character that we get to know well, although it is just through El’s and other people’s perception of him. He is a hero, constantly saving others from the monsters that roam the halls, which ends up causing more issues than one might think. I liked Orion, but it would be nice to see some of what is going on from his perspective. I have a feeling there is more to him than what we get from the people around him.

I really loved the relationship that developed between El and Orion. I wouldn’t exactly call it a romance, but there is something there. Not sure, just like El, if that is a good thing or not. They had some great witty banter between them as well, like this bit after they had killed a monster:

“You know, it’s almost impressive,” he said after a moment, sounding less wobbly. “You’re nearly dead and you’re still the rudest person I’ve ever met. You’re welcome again, by the way.”
“Given that you’re at least half responsible for this situation, I refuse to thank you,” I said.”

Naomi Novik, A Deadly Education

The school is really the star of this novel however. It is an amazing place filled with monsters just about everywhere that are trying to eat the students. This is not entirely the school’s fault as it is heavily warded against them, but wards fail or have cracks and things get in. Some of these monsters are quite terrifying, the things from your worst nightmares. And most of them are not to be trifled with. The way the students learn is quite interesting as well. Even though there are no ‘teachers’ the school supplies everything they need for them to learn.

“you sit inside the soundproofed cocoon, hoping you aren’t missing the footsteps of something coming at your back, and read textbooks or work on exercise sheets while disembodied voices whisper to you in whatever language you’re studying that day. Usually they tell me horrible gory stories or describe my death in loving detail.”

Naomi Novik, A Deadly Education

The only flaw in this amazing book is perhaps the info dumping at the start of the novel, and at other times too. The first couple of chapters might need to be read a couple of times in order to truly understand what the school and the magical system is all about. We also spend an awful lot of time in El’s head, listening to her work out things, and her opinions of the other students, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but a little more interaction with others might have been nice.

“I sat down and got out my current project, an extremely bad villanelle in which I was carefully avoiding the word pestilence, which was trying so hard to shove its way into every stanza that I was sure that if I actually wrote it down, the whole thing would turn into a tidy evocation of a new plague. I’m probably the only student who tries to prevent my writing assignments from turning into new spells.”

Naomi Novik, A Deadly Education

If you are looking for a light and fluffy magic school read, look elsewhere. This is the complete opposite, with its dark humor and parade of deaths and destruction almost on every page. But if you don’t mind dark, and you are looking for a badass, sassy heroine than this is the book you have been looking for.

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