Saturday, July 22, 2023

A Deadly Education

Naomi Novik
Completed 7/22/2023, Reviewed 7/22/2023
3 stars

I think I usually like books about angsty teenagers, but it’s been a while since I’ve read one.  In this book, the teenager covers her angstiness with meanness.  That I don’t like.  Through most of this book, the main character is just plain mean.  And the story is told in first person.  It made me feel like the anger was directed at me, not just the other characters.  Towards the end, she makes a conscious effort to be less mean, which helped a bit.  The saving grace of this book was that the world building was terrific.  It’s not just your ordinary wizard school, not another Harry Potter rip-off.  It has a much more pragmatic, contemporary feel, as if it could really exist.

Galadriel, who prefers to be called “El,” is a junior at the Scholomance, a school for wizarding.  Her mother was lone wizard, not belonging to one of the many enclaves around the world.  El, as a result, has a disdain for the teens from the enclaves and as well as those who are trying to find a way into one.  The book opens with her being saved again from a monster (a mal) by one such teen, Orion.  The school is overrun by mals trying to eat the students and Orion seems to have a mission to protect as many students as he can.  El hates that fact that she has to be saved.  Thus starts a rocky relationship between the two of them as well as a few other loners, and of course the scads of mals overrunning the school.

Don’t be fooled though.  This is barely a teen romance.  It is a coming into one’s self and figuring out one’s place in the world.  El has been the petulant child for a long time.  At the Scholomance, she’s only ever looked out for herself, who seems to attract more mals than other students.  When she was young her grandmother divined a prophesy that El would bring about a reign of destruction.  So she has been shunned most her life.  Entrenched in self-sufficiency, she must now learn to survive by accepting help from other people.  

I spent most of this book not liking El.  At best, I pitied her.  That must have been Novik’s intent because I don’t see how anyone can like her.  Occasionally, her reflections and insights had some humorous bits, but it made my reading of this book a veritable slog.  At barely over 300 pages, it took me a long week to read this book.  I just didn’t want to be in El’s head that much.  

Fortunately, the school is another character in the book.  It’s crazy structure and format made for interesting reading.  What I found strange though was the purge of seniors at graduation.  It’s revealed to us early on that on graduation day, the seniors are gathered in a big hall which rotates down into the depths of the school where the mals wait to eat them.  The lucky ones escape; the unlucky ones, well, they don’t.  But apparently, this is better than going through your teen years out in the real world.  So the students basically study magic to build their repertoire enough to help them escape graduation, and develop enough of an arsenal of spells to make it through life after Scholomance.  

I give this book three stars out of five.  I was very disappointed in this book after thoroughly enjoying Novik’s previous two novels, Uprooted and Spinning Silver.  I did start to warm up to it at the end when El finally lightens up a bit and has to work with others to try to fix the apparatus that was supposed to keep the mal population at bay.  The world building and the ending helped keep this book from getting two stars.  

I got the whole Scholomance trilogy when the individual books were on big sales, so I’ll probably read the rest of them.  After all of El’s meanness, I saw some hope for her at the end and want to see what happens during her senior year and as she makes her way out into the real world.  I also want to see what more Novik can build into this world.  

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