My love for Naomi Novik’s writing began when I read Uprooted. It was one of the first reviews I ever wrote for this blog, and I loved the book. And despite my interest petering out on later books, I also loved Her Majesty’s Dragon, Novik’s first book of the Temeraire series. Spinning Silver absolutely missed me, I stopped reading so early on that I didn’t think it was fair to write a review, and so when A Deadly Education popped up in my Goodreads feed and in “most anticipated” lists I knew I had to give it a try.
It is difficult to describe what is going on here without allowing this review to become a book itself, so I’ll just say that it’s a school that kids go to in their freshman year of high school, and they can’t leave it until they graduate or die. There are no teachers, just the school’s spirit monitoring whether students are doing what they should. Students teach themselves and each other. The school is infested with dangerous creatures of varying sizes called maleficeria due to the cleansing fire mechanism in the graduation hall malfunctioning. The graduation hall is the only way out of the school and back to the real world, so it’s also a way for the “mals” to get into the school. They are attracted to people with magic. This also means that seniors have to battle their way out, as larger mals that can’t scuttle through the pipes and walls build up in the hall and wait for their next meal.
Galadriel (yes, based on LOTR) prefers to be called “El” and is in her junior year at the Scholomance. She’s working very hard to thwart a terrifying prophecy that was made about her when she was young, but Orion Lake keeps trying to be her friend by saving her from mal attacks at every turn. She’s also pure mana, which means that she only uses good magic to fuel her spells and activities. Other students turn to malia, or bad magic, to get through, with varying personal consequences. El’s magic is so strong and prophesied to be so terrifying (eventually) that even dipping her toe into malia could be catastrophic, so she stores mana in crystals given to her by her mom and hopes to have enough saved up before her graduation.
This book really grabbed me and would hook anyone who identified with the tough girl going it alone kind of main character. The “I can do it myself” attitude that eventually crumbles to a close knit group of allies that become found family and all work together toward a goal is one of my favorite tropes. El and her mom do not belong to an enclave (powerful groups of witches/wizards from major world cities) so any extra assistance or support social, monetary, or otherwise has to be carefully earned among the other students without such connections, or won through deals that earn admittance into an enclave. The story definitely raises questions about class, social status, economic status, and allegiances. I found myself constantly wondering who the real enemy was, and hoping that I would get to see the student body band together to fight it (hint: you kind of do, although I think the issue might turn out to be minuscule compared to the real threat I hope to read about in the next book).
I’m sorry to compare it to Harry Potter but if you liked HP but wished for more diversity, more danger, and more independent spirits, A Deadly Education should be your next read. I loved HP but I loved this a lot more. Definitely pick this one up and give it a try, you won’t be disappointed. I’m working on getting my hands on the second book now and you know I’ll let you know how it is.
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