Cover Image: A Deadly Education

A Deadly Education

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Member Reviews

Years ago, I discovered a cover and a title to a book that intrigued me immediately. It had a fairytale feel to it, so naturally, I was drawn to it, and upon reading the description, I had a feeling that Naomi Novik would be special. And so I picked up Uprooted and read the first page, and I was done for immediately, and by the end, it cemented itself into a list of books that did something good for my heart and soul. My admiration only grew by reading Spinning Silver, a book so perfect I can’t praise it enough, and it quickly became one of my most talked-about books. And so, when Naomi Novik announced that she was writing a darker Harry Potter with feminism in mind, I knew that I had to get my hands on it. I’m excited to say that it did not disappoint, and I’m thrilled that I get to talk about and review it.

In A Deadly Education, the Scholomance school is not run by teachers, but by the school itself. In order to graduate from the Scholomance, magically gifted students must stay vigilant and guide themselves to success or die. Unfortunately for the students of the school, death can be inevitable, but chances of survival of puberty are better inside of the school than outside of it. In order to avoid an untimely demise, students must never walk the halls alone, and keep in mind that monsters, called maleficaria or “mals” or short, lurk everywhere, waiting for students to let their guard down. The school may give you spells if you ask for it; however, it may be in a language the student doesn't know and must learn. Everything the school does is to make or break a student.

Galadriel, or El for short, never lets her guard down, and is always preparing for the next task. El is uniquely prepared for the brutal world of the Scholomance, for she has a particular talent for mass destruction and death magic. El is just trying to survive graduating without taking out the rest of her class by accident, remaining a loner that never gets too close, while the hero of the school, and El’s nemesis, Orion Lake, is trying to save everyone he possibly can, no matter the cost. El and Orion come from opposite ends of popularity but form a reluctant alliance when El realizes that Orion needs someone to save him from his hero complex or face the consequences of his actions. 

This book was a ton of fun. Even though we are all extremely used to the magic school trope, Novik made it feel new again, which I consider a huge accomplishment. If I had to compare it to another magic school book, my first thought would be to Vita Nostra, because both of these books have the same “succeed or die” theme of the school and heroines who refuse to stop fighting for what they want. El is a fantastic MC, and I was rooting for her the whole time. El is smart, driven, and loyal, and even though she has vowed to remain on the outskirts of any kind of real friendships, she starts to let her walls down and show some vulnerabilities. I absolutely adored that her power is so devastating and that no one at the school knows just how deadly it could be. Because El is destined to be evil and Orion is destined to be a hero, they make quite the pair. I cannot wait to see where their stories go from here.

The only thing that gave me any sort of pause was that I was expecting it to be very Adult Fantasy and it instead felt more YA. Which is fine! I just felt like it was marketed way differently and I was expecting it to feel like it was written for adults. That’s all. Besides that, I have no other complaints at all. I was riveted by this book!

The worldbuilding is super fun, and very clever, just as you’d expect from Novik, and the magic felt unique to any I’ve read about. I don’t want to go into too many specifics because it’s entertaining to find out more about the world as you go along, but *how* magic is used can say a lot about someone, and it just further endeared me to El. Novik thought through every inch of the magic system for the Scholomance, and I commend her for it.

All of these elements put together made for a fantastical and compelling book that began to crescendo to a point where I could not put the book down. It’s a subverted heroes’ journey with magic, humor, and intrigue abound. I was basically screaming at the ending and already cannot wait to read the second book in the series. Naomi Novik is truly such a special writer, and she has shown us once again how wonderful her storytelling is in A Deadly Education.
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I honestly have no idea how to rate this book. I adored the setting and the story, but at the same time I was extremely bored because of all the info dump. This book had little action, which I'm fine with, but every time there was an action scene it was interrupted by more (sometimes useless) information. Otherwise the writing was beautiful and it was a really interesting read.
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Hogwarts from Hell.  No one could possibly have happy memories from going to school at Scholomance, the school for the magically gifted. Graduation means you live to make it out the front doors.  There's incentive to do well in class.  No teachers or tutors or pats on the back, but plenty of ghouls and beasties and things that go bump in the night - and the day, and under the bed and in the bathroom, and what's wrong with that jello?  One has to always pay attention, and never, never, NEVER go anywhere alone.  So talents and alliances, power and source energy is everything, and El is walking a fine line without friends and allies, but with powers she doesn't dare use for fear of killing everyone, or not use, for fear of dying herself.... And then this boy the other students practically worship keeps "rescuing" her - it's deeply annoying. She's having none of it.  Things have got to change.
And things do. As only Naomi Novik can.  What a wild roller coaster ride full of adventure and excitement and the discovery of friendship and maybe even trust.  El has never had friends in her life, never had anyone in her life who even liked her except her mum, who liked everyone, so taking those first steps into an alliance/friendship are very difficult and foreign and she stumbles a great deal, and is, well, very brave.  Splendid character development, totally believable, and  lots of fun.  An unbelievable variety of monsters literally coming out of the woodwork and splattered all over everywhere. I can not wait for the next in the series.
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Truly adored this book! I was nervous it might be too gory/ edge to close to horror for me but it didn't at all, while still maintaining a very urgent sense of the stakes and the danger. The world-building is a high concept but still manages to pull you in and make you care deeply about the characters. The underlying points about sexism and wealth inequalities feel extremely relevant and make this not only an exciting story, but an incisive one as well. I stayed up all night reading it and am only disappointed I'll have to wait for the sequel.
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Included as a top pick in bimonthly September New Releases post, which highlights and promotes upcoming releases of the month (link attached).

Disclaimer: I received a free e-ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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A Deadly Education follows a girl is in a boarding school where monsters are trying to kill her and everyone else in the school, so the name of the game is survival at all costs.   And then one day, the most popular kid in school befriends our grumpy heroine and her situation starts to change (basically, what you need to know is: boarding school, monsters, magic, snark).

Oh y'all, I loved this.  It had all the things I want in a book - the characters were likable (well, it's really just the main character that gets developed, but I 'm thinking side characters will get some love in the next one), the worldbuilding was creative and cool, and it was really funny!  It was kind of like if Gideon & Harrowhawk the Ninth were one book that wasn't confusing and also Yennefer from the Witcher (tv show version, and sans weird uterus-driven side-plot) was the main character.  It was awesome.  It won't be for everyone - the tone is really snarky, and there's almost no plot to speak of until the last few chapters, but when all the other stuff is so great, who cares?  I really want this to be a graphic novel and then a tv show  - some of the monsters (mals) sound so grossly awesome that I need to see them and their comic gory deaths on the glossy page and then screen.  

5 stars - I loved it, and if you are a fan of the aforementioned magic boarding schools with monsters trope, then you should 100% give it a read.
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Book news you can use: Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education is an instant contender for the best YA fantasy novel of 2020.

The story, which arrives just as many of us are uncomfortably wrestling with our complicated feelings about J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter universe, gives us the sorcerers’ boarding school saga we’ve been waiting for, complete with an appealingly difficult heroine, an exciting, fast-paced plot, and an entirely unique universe populated with matter-of-fact diversity and one of the most intriguing magical worlds in fiction at the moment.

Full review coming to Culturess on release day: https://culturess.com/2020/09/29/deadly-education-review/
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I decided that Orion had to die after the second time he saved my life. I hadn’t really cared much about him before then one way or another, but I had limits. 

And so begins A Deadly Education.  This book is so much more than a darker Harry Potter. The main character lashes out at everyone in a school where survival is only possible through alliances. She is capable of more power than all her classmates together but it depends on dark arts that she refuses to unleash. Each save will bring on more negative or mal energy,  She is full of anger and sadness and rage. And she is so alone, 
 In walks Orion who runs around saving everyone indiscriminately and he seems to get good energy from each save. He is surrounded, seemingly, by tons of friends. But once he saves her and she attacks him verbally. He starts to hang out with her, won’t go anywhere without her. He is as alone with his sycophants as she is alone. Only she sees him. 
These two flawed students must draw together a team to scour the monsters of the building to give folks half a chance of making it out alive.
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As someone who loved this darkly entertaining novel, here are five reasons you should read A Deadly Education, a story about dangerous magic spells, powerful alliances, and deadly monsters.
 
A dangerous school of magic. I would not mind being in Scholomance, a vicious magical school in which students learn by going to classes and receiving assignments that they must complete without a teacher to help. Unfortunately, not completing a task or failing a class means death, but those are just details. Right? Scholomance ends up being the most unsafe school I ever read about: walking alone in the school halls or being in a classroom all by yourself signifies being exposed to deadly attacks by mals, monsters lured by magic that will suck one's vitality and later feed on the corpse. Nonetheless, something was enticing about Scholomance and its darkness. I must say that I would love living in the library -- that is if the school didn't turn it into a mortal maze.

Spine-chilling and blood-curdling monsters. Don't judge me, okay? I love monsters! Most mals are unnamed, notwithstanding, they are all unique, creepy, and most importantly deadly. These beings are actually things made of nightmares -- some have a spider-like appearance but double their size, others are shadow-like beings and can crawl under door cracks, and so on. Always hungry, these creatures can hide inside cupboards or among books and worksheets, patiently waiting for their human prey.
 
Galadriel (also known as El). My grumpy and fierce, Galadriel (yes, she shares the name with Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings), I just loved being inside your head. 💛 El is constantly thinking about her next step -- which class to take; what to trade; which language should learn next to get her hands on good spells to trade -- and alert not to become the next mal meal. Of course, sometimes one gets distracted and that is how Orion ends up saving her countless times, even though El can defend herself. As a matter of fact, she can destroy the whole world with her magic/affinity. 
 
There were a few moments I wanted to hug El. She was never welcomed by her peers, feeling lonely for most of her stay in Scholomance. She did have some people with whom she traded spells and materials and students who would let her join them while walking to and from classes because there is safety in numbers, but that's all. So when Orion, who belongs to the most powerful enclave in the whole world, decides to be her friend (which means walking with her to classes, seating at her table at lunch, following her to the library, and saving her from monstrous beings), things get awkward. El is not the most approachable person and attempts to keep her distance from Orion. Nevertheless, she can't! I simply loved her reactions to Orion (she refused to be nice to him just because he belonged to an enclave) and how she was never afraid to speak her mind or being blunt.
 
Strong friendships and dubious alliances. When Orion bursts into her life (literally), El finds herself slowly building friendships and alliances. Although she was in uncharted waters, El was faithful to her convictions and wasn't easily charmed by the possibility of being part of an enclave. She was able to build not only alliances with people who would protect her but also friendships that I cannot wait to see how will blossom in the sequel -- especially after that ending. And that leads me to the last reason you should read A Deadly Education.
 
A jaw-dropping cliffhanger! How am I going to survive a whole year after how A Deadly Education? I don't know if my poor heart will be able to deal with so much anticipation.

Review published on September 17.
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A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik is the first in a new fascinating series: Scholomance. This is an excellent science fiction/fantasy/epic novel that kept me enthralled from beginning to end.
 
This is a genre that I am quick picky with. I find that I either love the novel and am truly enraptured, or I find it tedious, dramatic (unnecessarily so), and a chore to finish. This book was definitely a gem.
 
I loved the concept: a school for dark magic where to graduate means to survive. The stakes are high, the dramatic events abound, and action/surprise is around every corner.
 
I really enjoyed the main female character: Galadriel Higgins (El). She was smart, sassy, funny, dark, sarcastic, and I loved her verbiage, dialogue, and complex characteristics. Was she perfect? Nope. But that would have been boring. I like my main characters having chips and flaws. I find that infinitely more beautiful and intriguing. I also enjoyed her love-hate, push-pull, fiery relationship with Orion. There was just enough of a touch of romance between the two to add a great extra level to the story. Somehow it made them seem even more real.
 
I enjoyed the descriptions, the beyond unique concept, and of course I loved, LOVED the ending. It just sets it all up perfectly for the next book in the series.
 
I am so glad I went outside of my comfort zone and picked up this book to read.
 
Truly enjoyable. 5/5 stars
 
Thank you NetGalley and Ballantine/Random House for this ARC and in return I am submitting my  unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.
 
I am posting this review to my GR, Bookbub, and Instagram accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon and B&N accounts upon publication.
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I would not be so angry if this wasn't so good!

It did not end 0n a traditional cliffhanger, but more like a record scratch. Now I'm stuck in the pause and it will be more than a year before the music starts again. 

The international school is a great setting for equality/diversity class-privilege discussions, but orientation diversity is missing because everyone is too busy keeping themselves alive to hook up. 

I also hate it when an author makes me enjoy the hate-to-love trope, but Novik is just so darn good at it. 

Lots of people die, teamwork gets things done, and an unlikable person gets allies by acting rather than talking. Recommended.
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CW: a bunch of really murderous monsters of various kinds

This was my first Naomi Novik book and I had an absolute blast with it. From the premise alone, I already had a strong feeling I would enjoy A Deadly Education, the first book in the Scholomance series, but I wasn’t prepared for just how much fun I had with it.

From the beginning, Galadriel, who is usually just going by the name of El, was a hilariously snarky narrator. She finds very little to like about the people around her or the situations she finds herself in. Where other people try to see the good to get by, she is utterly prepared for the worst and expects nothing from no one. The amount of times she described herself as not being able to stop seething almost felt like a running joke at some point, because she really did have the hardest of times feeling anything but angry, which makes the moments she feels vulnerable all the more special.
However, what could have easily been an annoying trait after a while, worked incredibly well for her. Death seems to be a constant companion at the school and everyone is way too okay with more than half the class dying until graduation. It felt so callous and cold. All I wanted from El was for her to actually care for someone, to break that carefully crafted facade, and during the course of A Deadly Education, that’s exactly what you get, which is what makes it such a joy to read.

The strong suit of the story is definitely El’s interaction with her fellow classmates, be it with enclave kids she hates, the few kids that tolerated her or, most fun of all, shinning knight and do-gooder Orion. If I had to describe him, I’d say he was a classic example of a himbo – not the brightest bulb out there, but a boy with a heart of gold … and not bad to look at either. His banter with El was really EVERYTHING! If you can give me a good “Why are you being nice to me? Are you mad at me?”-kind of dynamic, I am hooked! I don’t really want to speak more to the nature of their relationship, because I don’t even know if I can call it fake dating or not, but it’s hilarious.

Where the novel struggles a bit is the world building. I never really found myself confused by the concept of the school, the international aspects with students from literally all over the globe being in this one void place or the onslaught of murderous monsters. What I did struggle a bit with was the enormous info dumps though. El is telling everything from her point of view (with a really interesting 4th wall break at some point), with long paragraphs of inner monologue and little else, which establishes her voice nicely, but also just means info on info on info in some sequences of the book. I wish there had been a sleeker way to introduce all that to us, but it kept happening throughout the novel, even after the initially very info-dump-heavy first chapter.

What really throws you for a loop is the final line of the book though! Honestly, this could have easily been an interesting standalone book (with only a couple unanswered questions left), but with that one last line, it turns your whole world and the experience you just had upside down. Now I am really full of questions and anxious to find out what the frick is going on!

Fazit: 4/5 stars! Absolutely loved this and am already so looking forward to the sequel!
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A compelling, if a bit overwrought, entry in the magic-school canon from the reliably terrific Novik. She takes the Transylvanian legend of the Scholomance, strips most of the legend away except for the school-submerged-in-darkness thing, drops it in England, and systematically sets about destroying every sacred trope of the kids-learning-magic genre. There are no teachers, most of the kids die, it's thoroughly gruesome... and, if you think about it too hard, you start to wonder if it is a bit *too* constructed a concept. 
There's a lot of expository magic-system explanation (a pet peeve of mine) and Galadriel, our main character, has many of the things that are annoying about all 16 year olds... but Novik keeps things humming along towards an inevitably smashing and shocking conclusion. Frankly I wish it'd been a standalone, but also I'll be here waiting eagerly for book two (and, I guess, three? I'm hearing trilogy?) because it was, in fact, good enough. 
(I know this all sounds like damning with faint praise, but I read the book in 36 hours -- it's good enough indeed.)
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One of the things that Naomi Novik does extraordinarily well is to present well-known fantasy or science-fiction premises in a way that makes them feel unique and fresh. I loved this book. The main character, El, is enrolled in a school of magic (enter well-known fantasy setting), where she is surrounded by dangers from the school and from other students. The story is told from her point of view - but it is clear that her perspective on life at Scholomance is not necessarily shared by her fellow students. She is highly analytical and strategic. The school has no teachers, but there are punishments for not completing work, brought by the school itself and the bevy of monsters that live there. Students must be self-directed and resilient to make it out after graduation - especially if they do not have powerful family alliances outside of the school that offer them advantages.
 El becomes friends with a student who does have certain advantages that she doesn't. And, both characters come to realize through their friendship how privilege has affected their lives and perspectives, especially when it comes to what is fair or unfair. I was not expecting this book to really go there, but it works beautifully and is doing the work that a lot of readers are doing now - asking questions about privilege and how it works at many different levels, including who does well in school. 
  El is a very powerful magically, and she knows this from the very beginning. This is not a story about a young girl who comes into her power. She is already incredibly powerful. Instead, we see El making moral choices constantly about how much power to use, where to draw that energy from, the harm that power may inadvertently cause. Her coming of age arc is more about developing friendships and building trust in others than it is about power. This is so different from how many fantasy/magical coming of age stories develop, and it felt so timely and wise. We should all be asking ourselves these questions. But, this book is also just really fun and exciting to read. The weight of these moral choices doesn't feel like a slog or tacked on at all. And, the school is vibrant and alive and a great setting to hang out in for a while - if a little scary.
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From the premises I was very confident for this new release and, although it turned out to be different from what I expected, I must say that I was quite satisfied. I devoured it in no time, the chapters are very long and at the beginning it is difficult to mesh, but once you "get it" the story went smoothly.

I loved the dark reinterpretation of the classic school of magic. The setting is very atmospheric and also very innovative. In fact, the school is not made up of teachers, but it is the building itself that is almost "alive" and assigns homework to the students.

The characters are well characterized and I found it easy to get attached to them, the secondaries are also very good. In particular I see a lot of myself in El, the protagonist, I'm sure many would find it irritating. She is the classic grumpy girl who is mad with the whole world, but only because she is afraid of being alone, and then turns out to have a heart of gold. 
The relationship between her and Orion is that something that gives an extra boost to the novel, I was always looking forward to their interactions. From complete strangers both become important to each other and that ending! I don't want to dwell on the latter because it would be a spoiler but I think I need a sequel, NOW.

Absolutely recommended if you are looking for a book set in a school of magic with a little twist.
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If you have read any of Novik's other books such as Uprooted or Spinning Silver, then you know that she writes complex characters and gratifyingly complex plots. In this case you might try to imagine that Hogwarts meets The Maze Runner. That wouldn't begin to cover it, but would at least give you an inkling of the setting. 

The Scholomance is a school for young magic users. Once you are inside, you do not come out until unless you graduate. There are no teachers, no adults at all, so you may want to add a dollop of Lord of the Flies to your mental recipe. Since the presence of so many magic users draws the mals (maleficaria - "nasty things that routinely come after wizards looking for a meal"), students get plenty of practice on their offensive and defensive spells. They also form alliances, figure out who they are going to throw to the mals to make their own escape, etc. 

The character El is the narrator. She is smart, snarky, and not good at social skills. One of the students finally explains that El makes others feel as if they are out in their best outfit without an umbrella and suddenly realize it is about to rain. That would put a damper on forming any friendships, you must admit. El's mother lives in a yurt in a commune in Wales and actually named her daughter Galadriel. El jokes that she is "the 'love me and despair' version" of Galadriel from the movies.

Without giving away any spoilers, let me just say that this book takes place in the junior year of El and her classmates. They deal with mal attacks in the hallways, library, shop class, even the dining hall. Those who come from large magical enclaves (yes, those are as ritzy and posh as they sound), have a head-start on the alliances and power brokering that will help them to survive past graduation, while El and the other who are loners or from smaller groups must be especially clever to stay alive.

The characters are from around the world - London, New York, Bangkok, Shanghai, and Dubai are just a few of the enclaves represented in the student body. The descriptions of the coursework, physical structure of the school, and how magic works are all well done and consistent. The maneuvering within and between the groups is like high school cliques on steroids. And along with the danger and deception, there are also really funny moments. An example would be the snack vending machine that randomly gives out items that are "usually aged, and sometimes inedibly ancient. Once I (El) got a military ration from World War I...Aadhya got ...a completely fresh salmon onigiri dated this very morning." How do you deal with something that randomly absurd? 

If you enjoy stories of young wizards, especially if they are still learning their craft and trying to survive school (quite literally in this case), and figuring out friendships and relationships in general - then pick this up when it hits the shelves on September 29. You will be in for a treat.
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*Advance Review Copy generously provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*   
Uprooted and Spinning Silver has made it to my personal bookshelf, I love them so much. I freaked when I found out about this, I mean a black magic version of Harry Potter is what I was imagining. No brainer, right? This wasn't completely what I was looking for, but still a ton of fun. It got a bit bogged down, but overall a win. Definitely purchasing for our collection and I look forward to booktalking this one.
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I have to admit, I have never read a Naomi Novik book. Shame, I know but I have heard great things about Naomi Novik and her works. So, I've gotten their works, Spinning Silver and Uprooted coming in the mail soon.

Now, to A Deadly Education. Admittedly, I got excited over this book once I read the blurb and it sounds just like a dream for someone who likes anti-heroes and enemies to lovers trope like me. And, it was better than I imagined it to be.

Novik's world building is vivid and exquisite! As someone who enjoys magical school settings, Novik's Scholomance is so interesting. The way that the author explained how the school has no teachers, and each student are motivated on their own because the only way they graduate is to get out of the school alive. The world is brutal and cutthroat, and in the start is a little info-dumpy but I personally didn't mind it at all. The magic system is also tied in the the world, wherein you need enough energy to cast spells. For example, our main character El has to do push ups to store energy she can use to cast her spells. Others have different way which Novik explains fully and very interestingly. 

The characters are also so fun, I can't help but laugh while I'm reading. El, also known as Galadriel, is our anti-hero, she is moody and angsty. From when she was a child, her grandmother had predicted that she will bring destruction. On the other hand, Orion Lake is everyone's hero, literally. Their relationship transpires in a very funny way, where Orion keeps saving El much to her chagrin. The two of them are much like Hercules and Meg in the animated movie, where the damsel in distress doesn't want to be saved. I really enjoyed their banter.

The plot unfold after a good third of the book but from then on the story really gets going. I really love where it leads to and ultimately you get so engrossed in the book. I'm so excited where this story leads to.
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"A Deadly Education" is a dark, ugly, unattractive, off-putting, gory, violent story with an unlikable protagonist and a truly annoying love interest, and I really enjoyed reading it. Naomi Novik's Scholomance is like if Hogwarts was sentient, had no adult supervision, and was filled only with Slytherins: brutal, cutthroat, and pretty violent. What students need to graduate from Scholomance is straightforward: survive. That's hardly simple when the school is filled with maleficaria, beasts and creepy crawlies that have only one mission: to eat young wizards. Will our stubborn, blunt protagonist El (and her faithful and infuriating stalker I MEAN...no, Orion is a stalker) make it to graduation alive? While some parts of the book felt slow, much of the information conveyed at those points felt like world-building, setting up Novik for a series that has the potential to be really exciting. Fans of Leigh Bardugo and Draco Malfoy will thoroughly enjoy "A Deadly Education."
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I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to read this Naomi Novik book early. So far I have loved all her books. However while I have rated this 4 stars this is not the kind of book I am used to by Naomi Novik and I think it is the book I like least so far. Still it was good in general. 

The thing with A Deadly Education is that it is a much more introverted and bleak book than any of her other work has been. It is a first person point of view in a setting and situation where our main character can never really relax. 

Scholomance is a school without teachers where the students learn by getting assignments and sheets that drop on their tables as they are in class. They always have to be careful of monsters that can attack at any moment, even in their dorm rooms. Luckily, or unluckily as El feels, their year has Orion who has been slaying most of the monsters. More students have been surviving. Orion saves El once more at the start of the book which frustrates her immensely. 

I enjoyed the setting, the story and the characters. But I felt that the writing drones on in places with introverted thoughts and too lengthy world building explanations. 

One of the plus points of this book is Orion and his relationship with El. El isn't exactly easy going but he hangs out with her regardless. Orion is just deliciously oblivious and kind hearted. Their whole school thinks they are dating and he doesn't notice anything. El gets so frustrated by him and it gives some funny interactions between them. 

El might not be the easiest person but she is fair when she does trading and treats those around her equally. When this gets noticed by those around her, it is appreciated and she manages to create a group of girls around her with Orion. Alliances that are based on friendship, and not who is the strongest or who has the most the offer. I liked seeing that. Their friendships grew slowly and in between the darkness of the school it was a shining beacon of hope. 

Lastly I'm going to note that El is a biracial (half indian, half welsh) character. Nothing in that stood out to me as bad rep throughout this book. BUT I am white so please take that with a grain of salt and listen to the opinions of own voices reviewers on this particular instance.
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