A Deadly Education
Rating: 5 Stars
Author: Naomi Novik
Series: The Scholomance, Book 1
“Was I starting to feel evil? Yes. Now I was worrying I’d be turned to the dark side by too much crochet.”
Magic school ✔ A Book by Naomi Novik ✔ A main character with a prophecy proclaiming her to be a Dark Lord ✔ And so much sass it should be illegal ✔
As soon as I heard that Naomi Novik was releasing a book this year I pre-ordered it. I didn’t even care what it was about. It was just an immediate add to cart insta buy.
I loved Uprooted and Spinning Silver. They were unique, intriguing, and something about Novik’s writing is impossible for me to put down. So when I heard she was writing a magic wizard school series that would echo Harry Potter but be more feminist and the school would be actively trying to kill our main character I jumped with glee.
And A Deadly Education did not let me down.
It was absolutely hilarious, fast paced, and what’s not to love about a character who so desperately is trying not to perform acts of mass destruction.
“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.”
There are so many books about magical schools. From children’s books like Harry Potter, to YA books like Nevernight, to adult Fantasy novels like The Name of the Wind magic schools are a staple of the fantasy genre. So, in general, this is something really hard to write and make it feel unique.
But Novik succeeded. The Scholomance, our magical institute of learning is killer. And I don’t mean in the “that sandwich is killer” sort of way. I mean the Scholomance is actively trying to murder every single student inhabiting it’s halls.
The school is filled with nasty monsters (called Maleficaria) that are attracted to magic and are hell bent on consuming magical adolescents (and for why parents actually send students to a school filled with crazy murderous monsters you’ll have to read the book).
And if having a killer school isn’t unique enough, in the Scholomance there are no teachers, no holidays (including summer break- you are literally stuck here till you graduate), and no friendships, only allies.
“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.”
So you journey with El (short for Galadriel- which my LOTR obsessed self LOVED) as she takes on the school, attempts to make allies, and tries (as hard as she can) to not go full on dark lord- or as J.R.R. Tolkien put it, “In place of a dark lord you would have a queen. Not dark but beautiful and terrible as the dawn”.
El is sassy, terrible at making allies, and desperately trying not to go dark. Which normally sounds like a YA main character (actually I’m a little surprised this book isn’t marketed as YA, the main characters’ ages and the book’s pacing is more on par with YA) but these qualities don’t feel irritating or forced and just make for a really causal read.
Her perspective is comical and I couldn’t help reading “just one more chapter” to see what would happen next.
The plot is well written and is easily something you can binge read in one sitting. I really enjoyed the unique magic system and affinities but definitely found some aspects slightly confusing (the magic system and how the school functions is a bit intricate, so a second read is definitely in order for me to complete before the 2nd book is released).
I primarily listened to the audiobook for this one (although I did read some of the physical book). The narrator had a brilliant british accent that made it really easy to immerse myself in the world and I really hope she will also narrate book 2.
Overall, A Deadly Education is a fantastic read and I am anxiously waiting for next summer when book 2 is released
For a closer look and my spoilery thoughts about the book you can see the spoiler section below and to find what I’m currently reading and other book recommendations go here.
If you have already read A Deadly Education (or just like spoilers like me) read below where I will break down the book in an in depth spoiler filled review and then discuss as I would if it were a book club meeting over coffee (or tea if you are classy like me).
In Depth Review
This section will go over some points I touched on in my spoiler free review but, expanded more addressing some spoilers in the story.
Premise, Concepts, and Themes
As I mentioned in my spoiler free review. The premise of a magic school that is trying to kill it’s students and a main character prophesied to be a dark lord is entirely too badass to not read.
Like seriously, it’s like Novik took everything I never knew I wanted (but desperately desired) in a fantasy book and added it to A Deadly Education.
It was also written in a way that although it was fun and fast paced didn’t feel cheap or corny.
And the premise of a protagonist prophesied to be a dark lord really integrated well into the theme of personal choice. That we as an individual get to choose who we become and how we behave.
Characters and Development Arcs
I LOVED El.
El is sassy, dramatic, comically volatile, and a shockingly honorable person which makes her a perfect protagonist for this offbeat Magic School-esq fantasy.
I couldn’t help but find her adorable, she was like this tiny kitten who thinks it can take on a fully grown dragon (although this chick probably could).
And her arc of becoming at peace with how she views herself rather than outside opinion was a great emotional arc to see.
The side characters were also all very well written and had distinct personalities (with Orion being my second favorite character overall).
Orion is just an all around good guy and Novik did a good job creating a character foil (Orion always being self sacrificing and El being Self Interested) who really compliments El.
It rounded out both characters and added a lot of conflict to the story that was very, very entertaining to read (namely every time El does something heroic and wants to be seen and Orion gets the credit).
Prose, Dialogue, and Style
So this is probably the aspect of the book that I can see being the most contentious.
The book is marketed as an Adult Fantasy novel but reads more like a YA… and while I love the fast paced hilarious style a lot of YA novels favor, that might not be for everyone.
Everything from the prose, to the dialogue, and the style are all very relaxed and comical reflecting the mental ages of the character’s they inhabit.
So for me, this book was a really great quick read that was a nice change of pace from all the heavy fantasy I’ve read this year but if you pick this up expecting a Brandon Sanderson/ Brent Weeks type fantasy you’ll be disappointed.
World and Atmosphere
The world building in this novel was hard to follow… I’m pretty sure I still only have a rough idea of how this magic school and system function in the real world.
Which, for an Urban Fantasy is not ideal.
In part I believe the miniscule page count is really to blame here for that.
There are only 336 pages, which was enough to cover the basic plot but not nearly enough to flesh out the magic system and world in a way that didn’t feel info-dumpy.
However, since this book is so lighthearted and the atmosphere of this world is so satirical it didn’t feel like it detracted from the overall reading experience (it just requires me to reread it before I pick up book two next summer).
Plot and Execution
This book could have easily come across as trite or corny, especially since the style of the book is so satirical however, each aspect is handled so wonderfully and executed perfectly in the novel.
The plot really flowed from being informational (world building), to introducing the characters, to the actual conflicts of the story itself.
Which I found interesting.
How do you keep constant vigilance, learn, and thrive in a school where you can die at any moment?
The book’s foreshadowing was written excellently where you can see where the book is going, but not feel like you can entirely predict every action the characters will choose.
Really my only critique would be the world building, but since it didn’t affect my overall reading experience (I still finished the book thinking HOLY shit that was good, definitely a book I can’t wait to read again/ get the next release) I stick to my 5 star rating.
What does the book’s title mean within the context of the story
A bit obvious… A school, you must learn, and you may die, ergo, A Deadly Education.
So an obvious title but one I like. I like getting that the title itself could be a quick synopsis and it immediately gets to the point on what this book will be about.
What was the most memorable moment from this book?
Man this is a book that is filled with fantastic moments but overall, I think my favorite moment was when Aadhya sat down with El in the lunchroom. In her entire time in the Scholomance she has never had anyone to watch her back. She always had to be on alert to protect herself and the only time people interacted with her is if she was providing them something useful. And after her backstory of her experience on the commune she grew up in it was even more powerful.
Or the moment when El mentions her namesake from and quotes LOTR. I loved that moment so freaking much.
Or one of the many times Orion gets the credit for something heroic that El actually did primarily. Like when she saved him from the cleaning fire in the end but he still somehow came off it looking like he did it all.
Really this book is filled with amazing scenes.
What are your thoughts on the perspective(s) that drive the story?
I love that this book is told by El’s perspective alone.
Especially since she is a character who is very insecure (with very good fucking reason due to all the mistreatment she received from her extended family and the people at her commune) in how others perceive her.
If there would’ve been other perspectives it would have immediately answered a lot of the conflicting issues that El’s character needed to wrestle with.
Besides, that moment at the end when you realize that Orion really did want people to think him and El were dating was priceless.
Which theme do you feel the author was most interested in communicating to readers?
Personal choice. We get to choose who we become and how we act regardless of what people say and prophecy.
Which I feel is necessary when you have a protagonist destined to evil incarnate but desperate to be a hero.
You really need to see how the individual is given a these little moments that add up to big decisions that determine that character’s ultimate morality.
Like in those moments where El had to learn to trust others and choose others’ feeling and emotions over her own.
Did you find the ending satisfying? Why or why not?
It was a good ending.
It tied up the conflict in this novel and helped introduce the next book’s struggle— namely WTF does El’s mom not want her to trust Orion???.