Series: The Scholomance #1
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.
Rating: 4/5 Drink Me Potions
A unique spin on a magical school, this isn’t your typical Harry Potter stuff – though I will admit that was an alluring point that drew me to this book to begin with.
If you don’t mind the information overload and trying to situate yourself in this magical school that wants to kill you, literally at every turn, I would think you’d start falling in love with the book. Not the place because the Scholomance only wants to kill you. Even the showers and your own furniture hidden with magical beings called maleficaria who want to suck you dry of your magic.
We follow the inner thoughts and monologue of protagonist Galadriel (hip hip hurray for Lord of the Rings references) – if you can picture that lady in the film this is probably a good representation of the uneasiness others seem to feel around our girl – who everyone thinks is going to turn evil one day, if she isn’t already. It’s not her fault she has an affinity for destruction and deadly spells, is it?
I normally hate stories with giant monologues, little conversations between characters, and generally just looking at the world through one person’s eyes. BUT, this isn’t the case here. Naomi Novik does an amazing job of making El so real to me with such a compelling voice that I couldn’t help but be sympathetic to her plight. Rude? I would totally be there with you, girl, since everyone avoids you like the plague. And that is totally a bad thing in a school where you need at least someone else to even go brush your teeth with if you don’t wanna be killed by some monster. Resisting the urge to show off your killing prowess to those who bully and demean you? Yeah, such restraint!
For you romance lovers out there, this is a fantasy story that has minimal reference to a huge romantic arc, at least in this first book. While there is a love interest (can I even call him that?), Orion never explicitly mentions anything and El is hilariously against the notion of being labelled as a couple the whole time he started hanging around her. However, I could totally see this developing into something more eventually. The progression of being virtual strangers to learning to see one another not for what they tried to present to others but for who they really were inside was endearing and worth so much more than instant attraction alone.
Speaking of relationships, the character development El begrudgingly goes through really tied it all together. She’s the voice we hear and the eyes we see through so seeing how she learns to form some friendships with other students was both entertaining and added value to the overall action plot taking place.
Which brings me back to the fact that this school LITERALLY tries to kill you at every page.
With our protagonist finishing off her junior year, seniors literally have to fight through hell to graduate and escape this school. The slug of information this book provided may have set my rating a little lower but I am confident sets the foundation for what I know will be an explosive sequel as El and friends head into their final year at the Scholomance.
As a final note, I will address a little on the controversies around this book. I will not address all of it, but as I am also a Chinese reader, I wanted to speak up that at least from the standpoint of Asian names and racism, I never once found any of it alarming or insensitive. I have many friends who go by different names or may have a first name that sounds like it could be a last name (or is actually a last name of other people I’ve known). There are also a ridiculous amount of ways to spelling the same Chinese character into English, and I rather enjoyed the diversity in ethnicities in the characters, especially seeing some representation of someone who would look like me. I’m aware people want to point out insensitivities and I appreciate that, but this isn’t one of those cases and you don’t have to defend us on this point in this particular situation.
A Deadly Education provides another unique voice to our horde of heroines that is sure to last in your memory. Galadriel “El” is standoffish and frankly downright rude to other people, but that’s just part of her charm, right? Or perhaps, her strong will and determination to remain good although her magical affinity is to destruction and death. Paired off with golden boy hero Orion Lake, these two will find themselves in some trouble as the school and its monstrous residents (and I don’t mean the students) tries their skill and will to survive until graduation. When the school literally can kill you at every turn, maybe having dark magic is a good thing? A decent pace and solid foundation in world building, this book prepares you for the craziness that is only ahead in its sequel!