Wednesday, October 28, 2020

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Hands down, A Deadly Education, The Scholomance 1, is the best book I’ve read this year, and I’ve read quite a few. I like Novik’s Temeraire series set in an alt-history Regency universe with dragons, so I was eager to read this one when I received a review copy from NetGalley. Her new series couldn’t be farther from the sophisticated historical fantasyand it’s all the better for it.

The book is being advertised as Harry Potter meets The Fight Club, and it’s sort of accurate and not accurate at all. It’s young adult (urban) fantasy set in a school for sorcerers. But unlike in Harry Potter, it’s not a safe haven from the scary real world. The students are inducted at fourteen and they graduate four years laterif they’re still alive. Because the school is actively trying to kill them. There are no adults to help them, no sage elders. There are no teachers. There are only the students and hungry monsters. And the fight is constant. There are no safe places and they can’t get out except at graduation, and for that they have to exit through a huge hall teeming with the killer monsters. Not everyone survives.

Galadriel is on her second to last year, and she’s doing fairly well. She would do better if she gave into her affinity to dark magic, but she knows that if she does, she’ll become an unstoppable monster. So she hides her true nature and sticks to the good magic. But other students shun her, for no reason that she can understand. In a school that tries to constantly kill one, she need friends and allies. She can’t even take a shower without someone watching her back. She has no one.

Then Orion Lake, the hero of her year, takes interest in her, saving her from a monster after another. That’s what he does. He’s brilliant at keeping people alive. Galadriel resents him for itthe book starts with her contemplating his murderbut he seems to be impervious to her anger. And to her amazement, he starts hanging out with her. And with him, come other people. Not being alone is a new experience for her. What follows is basically a growth story about an angry loner, a fairly typical one at that, with popular kids versus the shunned ones and finding one’s true friends. There’s a little bit of romance there as well, but in a school where anyone can die at any moment, one doesn’t want to get too attached. Especially since it turns out that by saving all those students, Orion has only managed to make the monsters even hungrierand they’re out to get the entire school.

What makes this book so brilliant is the world Novik has created. It’s rich and terrifying, and the narrative doesn’t spend a moment longer than necessary at explaining things. We learn as we go with Galadriel, her stream of consciousness describing both the school and the outside world in an exhausting but unputdownable manner. The chapters and paragraphs are long, but the reader plunges right in there with her and is in for a ride. The ending is satisfying, with a hook that guarantees I’m going to want to read the next book. Instantly, if that were possible.


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