Cover Image: A Deadly Education

A Deadly Education

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

This was my first time reading anything by Naomi Novik and I was pleasantly surprised. The concept of this book was so interesting to me and I think Novik executed it quite well. It was a refreshing take on the magic school concept which made it very enjoyable for me.

The pacing of the book was a bit of an issue for me as I felt like the explanations the author would make in the middle of a scene to give us some backstory kind of took me out of the scene and by the time I was back in the present I forgot some of what was going on. With that being said, it was nice to be given such an extensive knowledge of the world to completely understand what was happening.

I'm looking forward to continuing with the series and seeing where Novik goes with the story. I would definitely recommend reading this book.
Was this review helpful?
With thanks to the publisher and Netgalley. 

I absolutely loved this book and read it in two sessions, only because at 2am I was too tired to stay awake! 

It has everything I enjoyed in Uprooted and Spinning Silver; a fast pace, fantastic world building, characters that I’d like to know and a conclusion that leaves me more wanting more because I don’t want the story to have ended. I’m so glad that this is book 1 in the Scholomance
series and I’ll be waiting eagerly for the next book in the series. 

El is in her second to last year at the Scholomance; a loner, desperately trying to work out how to make a strong enough alliance to survive graduation, and even, how to survive the monsters infesting the school until then. It makes for riveting reading (the same as Uprooted and Spinning Silver) and the characters and story will continue to resonate long after the story is finished.
Was this review helpful?
4-4.5 stars

I’m a bit dithery over that rating, take it as 4.25 if that helps! I just about devoured this book whenever I could and it made for tasty reading. The Scholomance was a school like you’ve never imagined, a school trying to kill its pupils with brimming magic, a void and tonnes of deadly creatures.

This was a witty read and that really surprised me. We’ve definitely seen shades of Novik’s sarcastic humour through Uprooted but this story had a lighter, laugh-out-loudness to it. I thought the whole concept of The Scholomance (the boarding school for wizards) was unique. Add to that the snarkiest heroine I’ve read in a while in Galadriel (El) and it was hard for this book to put a foot wrong.

"When I want to straighten my room, I get instructions on how to kill it with fire."

Odd right? Spells didn’t flow in the expected way for her, but Galadriel was not a conventional wizard by Scholomance pupil standards, she was quietly and covertly exceptional. I loved reading about her systems, her talents and the languages she was studying. Most of all, I enjoyed reading her growth in friendships. El was almost made perfect with her use of British swears. I can say that Novik wrote a Brit (she was actually Welsh) particularly well.

The begrudging friendship/white knight (not needed) in Orion made for hilarity and chuckling. It was hard not to like Orion despite his saviour complex but there’s definitely more to unpack with him and I’m so glad we hopefully get to do that in the next book.

“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.”

The heirarchies in the school were something else and the void was just nausea-inducing to me. This truly was the school of nightmares and I wouldn’t last more than a minute in there! I simply cannot wait for the next instalment. And so I leave you with my favourite line (kudos to Jane Eyre here).

"Reader, I ran the fuck away."

Thank you to Cornerstone/Random House for the early review copy.
Was this review helpful?
I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Deadly Education is the first book I’ve ever read by the famous author Naomi Novik. After falling in love with this eerie story, I can guarantee you that I’ll be looking forward to reading more of her work, especially the sequel to this book; that ending left me with a lot of questions!

A Deadly Education follows the story of Galadriel who, alongside her fellow wizards, studies at the Scholomance; which is a very dangerous and magical school full of monsters. At the Scholomance, sitting alone in the cafeteria or even walking to your classes by yourself is a terrible idea because maleficaria lurks everywhere and they are drawn to wizards’ magic.

In order to survive until graduation, which is when they will fight against all the monsters who weren’t able to get inside the school, Galadriel and everyone else spend their time with schoolwork; learning as many spells they can in different languages, trading stuff and finding themselves some allies for their graduation.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like this one before and I think that’s what made me love it even more; the Scholomance is very peculiar school. One of the things I loved about A Deadly Education was the definitely the beginning; I absolutely loved they way it started, it made me laugh out loud!

Galadriel and Orion are without a doubt my favorite characters. Galadriel is sarcastic, she isn’t afraid to speak her mind, doesn’t care what people think of her and she doesn’t like to be saved; she could totally do that herself. Meanwhile Orion is the total opposite: he is kind, patient and tries to save as many students as he can, but his actions are having a negative effect in the school.

While Galadriel isn’t popular and does not have as many friends as those around her, she’s actually a very powerful wizard. I’m really look forward to read more about her magical abilities in the next book! And I also think there’s something Orion isn’t saying and I really want to know what that is, lol, I really want to read the sequel now!

Overall, A Deadly Education is a fascinating must read; it was a marvelous story from beginning to end. I can’t wait for you all to meet Galadriel and Orion, they are wonderful characters. And Naomi’s writing style, just like her book, was magical.
Was this review helpful?
Blog post live on August 31st.

I think that this book is definitely going to be a love it or hate it kind of book. I absolutely adored it but I think for some people the narrative style just isn’t going to work. It is unusual, but I found myself totally drawn into it and I can’t wait for the rest of the series, not just because I need to know what happens next but because I kind of miss El’s perspective already. To me the narrative feels a lot like a stream of consciousness – or like the haphazard way that I tell stories. It feels very personal, like El is talking to you as the reader, and as she’s relaying what’s happening she will slide into stories about her past that relate to what’s happening. It means the worldbuilding is a little heavy at the start, but I think it works with the idea that El is telling you about her life and I think Naomi Novik did a really good job of making sure that the story never wandered so far off that I lost track of what was happening before.

The narrative style also worked really well for me because I absolutely adored El. I kept joking before I got the review copy that with her sharing my name and having destructive magic, I was guaranteed to love El. Well. I was right. By the end of A Deadly Education I felt like I was friends with El and hitting the last page of the book pained me. She wasn’t what I was expecting from seeing the book marketed as ‘girl with destructive magic at terrifying murder school’ but I actually liked her better than I thought. El could commit atrocities. She could easily walk out of the school without a scratch, and all it would cost her is a little murder. It would be easy for her. But she doesn’t want to do that. Instead she makes her like three times harder to do things right. It’s almost aspirational, even if I did desperately want to see her do something hugely destructive (I like powerful women, okay).

This book was tropey as hell in SUCH a good way. Fake dating. Accidentally dating. Chosen One. And the school itself is just about the coolest (scariest) idea I could imagine. It’s a school for magical students where the students are trapped until they graduate, and the only way to leave is to walk through the graduation hall. Which just happens to be full of monsters that want to kill students. So ‘learning’ at the school isn’t exactly a structured curriculum, but a concentrated effort to learn enough to get out alive, or to be useful enough that someone else gets you out alive. Add in that the school is sentient and exists in the void and it might just be the school from hell. I can’t wait for the next book, because the end of A Deadly Education had me literally gasping out loud.

The only thing that seemed a little off to me was that the main character is biracial (Welsh-Indian) but while it was mentioned once or twice, it didn’t feel like it really showed in the text at any point? I’m white, so it’s not something that I can really comment on, but I hope ownvoices Indian and Indian-British/Welsh reviewers are getting to read this because I’d love to read their take on the character. It didn’t feel like bad representation to me, but equally, it didn’t feel like her Indian heritage was really represented at all so I hope it wasn’t just put in for diversity’s sake.
Was this review helpful?
I'm giving 5 stars to my girl El because she deserves every single one of them!

"Yes, now I was worrying I'd be turned to the dark side by too much crochet."

I've started this review several times, always with, I love this book because...and then about ten things immediately spring to mind. 

So, instead, I'm going to start at the beginning. 

I loved the premise. The synopsis grabbed me instantly and I couldn't wait to dig in.

But, it took me a little while to get really into the book. I knew that I liked it, but I wasn't really sure why. Then, it did a complete one-eighty on me the more I got to know El. 

I'll be honest, in terms of actual plot, not a great deal does happen BUT this is the first book in the series, and it's clear that there's a lot of setup going on AND we do get fantastic world building, character building and really great monsters. 

El though is my new hero. I absolutely love her, and might also be a little in love with her. It's really not often that you're introduced to a morally good character that's also incredibly powerful, witty, stubborn and 100% interesting. 

"I love having existential crises at bedtime, it's so restful."

It's El who makes this book worth reading, and I love the humour she brings while at the same time bringing a lot of heart to the book, making you really care for and root for her.

The premise is fantastic - it's a school that almost tries to kill you! 

"The school has to be fed somehow." 

I love that the traditional "hero" trope in this book is turned on its head and I just love the dynamic between El and Orion. Think Legolas and Gimli, but a little more frank. 

"Lake, I hate you more than words can possibly express."

The secondary characters are also fantastic and add a lot of unexpected humour, tension and drama to the plot.  

"Mom told me that all boys are carrying a secret pet mal in their underwear, and if you get alone with them they let it out." 

As the tension and danger built throughout the book, I really wondered how it was going to end but it was great, with just enough tension to keep me hanging on for the next one. 

Overall, a fantastic start to a new fantasy series! I can't wait for the next instalment!
Was this review helpful?
This book is set solely in a magic school where you either graduate or die trying. There are no teachers, no rules, you look after yourself. The premise sounds like a bad dream to be thrown into,  but in the very best way for a book plot. It reminds me a bit of the horror in Spirited Away when that poor kid lands herself in a right mess away from parents, rules or logic.

The big thing I would say about this book being set purely in a school is it feels very isolated. We aren't talking Hogwarts where there's constantly a new magical corridor to explore, we're talking more the schools you and I would know from our own educations. The main locations we saw were a few classrooms, the cafeteria, toilets and bedrooms. Novik did a good job of making the reader feel as trapped as the students do, but I found it made the story quite stretched out and at times repetitive.

This book is the first in a series and certainly felt like an introduction book. This whole book was setting up the characters, the world, the school, which I get is the point of a first book, but it just felt a bit too much. I wanted the story to get on and get moving, but instead, I felt I was reading a user manual for the world Novik was creating. Not to say this is a bad thing, as I did enjoy this book and reading about the weird world it is set in. But I just felt myself willing it to end a few times because it did get a bit boring in the middle.

I really liked the concept of every student learning a different type of spell and different languages etc. Being teacherless this school teaches the kids itself by providing them with library books they may or may not have wanted and making pictures on the wall come alive to demonstrate certain types of monsters. It added a certain level of humour to the book that you can't entirely pick what you study and to a certain extent you get what you're given.

Galadriel is our main character, who yes, is named after Tolkien's Galadriel, which I love a lot. It's a subtle reference that is picked up on a few times in the book and it made me happy. I'd say she's a fairly average character, isn't well-liked, doesn't quite know why, wants to survive, will do what it takes. She definitely grew on me, but she never wowed me. She is morally grey and has a dark side that she is trying to silence, which makes her interesting in terms of what her motivations are. I'd be intrigued to see how this is explored in future books.

And finally, the monsters. There are so many different types of worrying creatures in this book and honestly, I got a bit lost with what they were all meant to look like. But the general idea of never really being able to rest for fear of being killed viciously by an evil creature is conveyed quite successfully in this book. I felt the pressure and the tension and the instability of these students.

Overall, whilst I did enjoy this book, it was just missing something. I'm not so sure what that was, but I wanted a bit more from it that I didn't get. Perhaps further books in the series will pick up on the action and variation if we get out of the school setting.
Was this review helpful?
A dark twisted magical school story, set around a girl who has the power to become a dark sorceress - and is only held back by the need to not disappoint her mother. 

I didnt know what I was expecting from Naomi Novik - it seems like every time I pick up a book from her she has surprised me - the writing impeccable, the characters lovable yet flawed in the most human of ways. 
And yet, always different - always new.
And a Deadly Education did stray from her norm.

This book has everything. 
Humor (dark and twisted but humor none the less) comradery which turn to friendship, a magic system based on balance - and a completely different view on the classic magic school. 

El as a main character who is deemed able to do great evil but is literally held back because she does not want to disappoint her mother. And Orion is the classic Hero of All, and yet. So much more then that. Both of them are. 

I have a hard time finding the right words for the this book. So I am going to give you five which have stuck in my mind since I finished this masterpiece. 

Exceptionally written - with a main character who confounds you in the best of ways. 
Gut punching when you least expect it.
And over all brilliant. 

El is unlike any main character I have read about in a long time - give me a dash of courage, a no nonsense mind, and a need for belonging and a prophercy which deems her the next big evil. 

And then put her in a magic school that is trying to kill her. 

I think the only bad thing I can say about this book is that I wish it was longer.
I loved every second, every inch of this book and cannot wait to find out what comes next. 
I know Novik will not disappoint.
Was this review helpful?
I’m a huge fan of Naomi Novik and this book did not disappoint. This is such an interesting take on the idea of a magic school and Novik pulls the rug out from underneath you at every possible turn. I fell in love with Galadriel from the very first line - I love a morally conflicted Hero/Anti-hero - and I cannot wait for the second one!
Was this review helpful?
DNF at 42%

I wasn’t in love with Novik’s previous books, but I really liked the idea for this one so I gave it another go. It didn’t live up.

This narration is bogged down with so much exposition, and it was way too much. Our main character will be fighting monsters or threatening to kill someone, but all of a sudden she will go into her backstory, or go into extreme detail about the school or the magic system. It doesn’t help how the characters were one dimensional.

The idea doesn’t work. It sounds cool, but the world building was wishy-washy. 

And there is no plot. Nothing happens, and there is no tension because I’m not invested in anything.

I think I should give up on Novik.
Was this review helpful?
I didn't really know what to expect going into A Deadly Education, but I came out of it knowing that I should never doubt Naomi Novik. I was a big fan of Uprooted and Spinning Silver and whilst this book has a slightly different tone and a younger feel to it than those others, it is still delightful and whimsical and imaginative.

Galadriel or "El" is one angsty teen with a talent for mass destruction. She, like all other wizards of her ages, is trapped in Scholomance to graduate or die. Demons and monsters called "mals" dog her every step. They lurk under your desk, hide in the food, and when you lose your attention, even for just a second, they pounce and you die. El is just trying to survive, but Orion is determined to save everyone. When their two paths cross, Orion takes a shine to El because she's the only one to treat him like a person, rather than a cardboard cut of a hero that everyone worships.

Above the characters, who a bit flat, and the story line, I loved the ideas. A school hidden in the void with monsters clawing to get in. A school that will teach you the spells you ask for, but might give them to you in a language you don't know. And if you don't know, you'd better learn. The idea of using mana that must be generated by effort - in El's case this is either pushups or crochet - or drawing from the life around you, is a fairly cut and dried case of "light" versus "dark" but it's done so well.

Then there's the whole concept of alliances and friendships found, a theme that always tugs at my heart. El has been a loner because she has nothing to offer the enclaves - groups of wizards that are kind of like clan, a hub of power that can pool their mana together for their members to draw on - and is very offputting to the non-enclave kids. But in scholomance, to do anything alone is to taunt death. And so El does nothing but sit in her room and study and do push ups. Until she finds a couple of friends :)

Lastly, there's the good ol' powerful vs weak, old power vs new power, light vs dark, rich vs poor theme. The haves against the have nots. El, unsurprisingly, is a have not. She's not rich, she doesn't have allies, and it shows. She doesn't have a collective mana pool to draw from, she gets to lunch last and the food is terrible, and any maintenance requests she puts in are tossed. Unless she finds a powerful group fast, she gonna die come graduation day. Orion is a haver. And he is noble and righteous (and his character is also as flat as a paper bag, I mean for real!) but it takes El to start to open his eyes to the injustice and inequality. It's a classic theme but it's nicely done.

A couple of things I didn't like. Tonally, this book felt very YA: magic school, the power of friendship, an outcast girl who finds some outcast friends and hates the popular kids. But then there are characters calling each other tw*ts. So you know. The ending was a bit naff and most of the characters except for El felt very flat and I couldn't decide whether that was on purpose or not.

Either way, A Deadly Education was a great read that I devoured in a couple of days. It was just what I needed to reboot my love of reading after labouring through some really slow books recently.
Was this review helpful?
well... where do I even start with this book. 

I've never actually read anything by Naomi Novik (always meant to, but never actually got round to it). But, when I read the description for this one I knew it was going to be a winner. 

The premise of a school that you either graduate or die, sounds a bit far-fetched/over the top, but Novik does a great job of making it palatable and interesting. I really liked the idea that there was no authority too. 

The main character is a wonderful blend of intelligence, sharp wit and she's pretty funny too! Novik develops her character well throughout the book. 

There is a lot of explanation about the world in which the book is set, which could, for some people be a bit much, but I think it's setting up the rest of the series really well. And I loved the world Novik creates in this book, so I was happy to read the endless desription!

All in all - excellent. I'm so looking forward to reading more!!
Was this review helpful?
Novik took the world of magic and fantasy and turned it on its head. A Deadly Education completely reworks all the 'magic school' tropes and arises at a perfect time to challenge the world of Harry Potter. I still don't fully understand the Scholomance world, but this didn't stop me falling in love with it or desperately wanting more.

I loved having a main character who isn't perfect. Galadriel was relatable and lovable, her struggle with her own darkness was a beautiful part of the story as well as her struggle against people's conceptions of her. I just loved her and can't wait to delve deeper into her story.

I could write about this book for days - there is nothing that I didn't like. Novik is an incredible writer and with the final line of the book delivered a blow that had me screaming. I am desperate to read the second instalment and the first hasn't even been released yet.
Was this review helpful?
I read this book so fast that I could read it again straight after and I LOVED IT. & I am so grateful to netgalley for the proof!


Naomi Novik is a totally splendid wonderful writer.

IT WAS EVERYTHING I EVER WANTED. It’s what Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On should’ve been
Was this review helpful?
I’d never heard of the author before but really wanted to read this because I loved the premise. It sounded crazy, my kind of crazy. A Deadly Education sounded like a dark version of Harry Potter at a school with no teachers and where being killed or tortured in horrible ways is a real possibility multiple times a day. Oh and if you fail to graduate you die in a horrible and likely painful way. Why wouldn’t you want to read something so crazy? I really enjoyed this book. It was fun and dark and everything in between. I look forward to the next book in the series. The only thing that spoiled the book a little for me is that the chapters are really long.
Was this review helpful?
This book is going to be fiercely adored by readers and, because of some supreme touches of brilliance, deservedly so.
It definitely feels like the first in a series, there’s a lot of exposition in there and foreshadowing being set up, at certain points it becomes a little repetitive. But, it’s building to something brilliant, that much is obvious and whatever doubts I had were utterly annihilated by that killer last line. 
And it works as a sharp allegory about capitalism which is very refreshing in a genre that often gets stuck in a Public School elitist mire. 
By the end of the book I was cross with myself for reading it at such an early stage, because the wait to read the next instalment is going to hurt!
Was this review helpful?
Fantastically refreshing and fascinating world building, vibrant protagonist, and lots of fun. This kind of book is sometimes hard to find; one that takes tropes and genres and gives them new life and a fresh coat of paint. A great spin on the "magic boarding school" story.
Was this review helpful?
I've given three 5-star ratings to books in 2020. This is the fourth. 

There are some books that are 4.75 stars and I’ll round them up to five online, but there are very, very few that I give a solid 5 because for me that would mean there was absolutely nothing about the book I'd want to change. A Deadly Education was absolute perfection for me; I loved every second of it and from the second I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. 

I'm just not really sure where to start with this review because I'm slightly concerned I'm going to turn into a gushing mess. I really think Naomi Novik is one of the best fantasy authors out there at the moment, and when I saw my request for an ARC of A Deadly Education had been approved I screamed (that should give you an indication of how excited I was to receive it). I enjoyed Uprooted, but I LOVED Spinning Silver (a rare 5-star read for 2019), and I already know that A Deadly Education is going to be in my yearly favourites round-up. I mean, I'm already excited for the second book and the first one isn't even out yet. 

It’s almost harder to write a review for a book you’ve loved because you have no criticisms to talk about. When it’s good it’s more like, plot: amazing, characters: incredible, world-building: fantastic. This is a departure from the loose fairy-tale retellings of Uprooted and Spinning Silver, it’s dark and filled with monsters and murder. At first when I saw it was about a magical school I was like, great another Harry Potter rip-off. But I was so wrong. A Deadly Education brought back all those feelings of magic and excitement, but in a totally different way.
The Scholomance has no teachers, no adults, no outside communication, just monsters that want to kill you, classmates that want to kill you, and a final test that will almost certainly kill you. 

Novik has incredible skill at writing characters, even side characters felt fleshed-out and like they stood in their own stead with their own motivations (rather than just being there to further the plot). Galadriel (El) has fast become one of my favourite protagonists of all time. She was an outcast, but also strong and snarky and just generally awesome. From the very first line in the book I was totally invested in her story. Orion was also a great character, and the way he and El interacted was interesting and believable. I'm so excited to read more from all the characters in the future, and can't wait to see their development as the series progresses. As a side note, I loved the multiculturalism of the school, there were characters from all over the world and it never felt like they’d been shoehorned in in the name of diversity. 

I loved this book so much that I’ll be purchasing this as a hardback the second it comes out so it can sit with my other favourites on my bookshelf. I'm also keeping my fingers crossed for a beautiful front cover, as I'm going to be plastering this all over my bookstagram account for sure! I can't wait for this to come out because there’s so many people I'm going to recommend this to who I just know are going to love it as much as I did! I absolutely can't wait to see where this series goes, although I fear I'm going to have to wait a bit!

I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Naomi Novik is one of my favourite writers working today.

She's famous for the Temeraire series: alternate history Regency-era fantasies where intelligent dragons essentially act as airborn artillery in the British armed forces as they battle against Napolean. I really liked the Temeraire books and have read all of them - but not until after that series was complete and Ms Novik published UPROOTED, which can be taken as a very loose Beauty & the Beast retelling, did I become a superfan. And I do mean a superfan. UPROOTED pressed every button that my fairytale and folklore obsessed heart possessed, and I loved it so much that I recommended it to literally every bookish person I met for the next year.

I had her next book, SPINNING SILVER, on pre-order the moment it was available on the Waterstone's website, and when it turned up and my sad, RSI-weakened hands could not actually hold it long enough to read it (it's a hardback and it's chunky, OK, and I need to be able to bring books up close to my face because my eyes are rubbish) I turned around and got the ebook, but kept the hardback anyway because it was signed. Me. This perpetually skint, compulsively thrifty person. Who even am I? This what the prospect of a new Naomi Novik book does to me.

So the female-focused folklore inspired fantasy was a pretty big departure for the author of a very, very successful and long-running series with a male protagonist. And A DEADLY EDUCATION is yet another daring swerve for the author. It's what I would call contemporary urban fantasy, or maybe contemporary alternate history (the 'everything's the same except there's a secret magical world' variety) and hovering right on the edge of the crossover market. When I saw this pop up in Netgalley I nearly dislocated my finger, I hit the 'Request' button with such fervour. Only afterwards did I notice that this wasn't another fairytale inspired novel, but something entirely different. I prepared myself to maybe not love it quite so much.

Ha. Yeah. Nope. I would still sell my immortal soul for this woman.

First, I need to get this out there: this is an absolutely bonkers book. I can't emphasize enough how barmy it is. Story. Characters. Tone. It's like nothing you've read before. But! At the same time, it IS. Because it is straight-up parodying not only Harry Potter but the parade of other 'magic highschool' novels which followed in HP's stratospheric wake.

This is a book that has set out to answer the question so many of us have asked regarding Hogwarts as we looked back at the series as adults: who in the heck would ever send their kid there, and WHY would they allow them STAY there when the kids are writing letters home saying: "Thanks for the new socks. Got an A in Transfiguration but only a B in Herbology. Oh, and there's a giant savage three headed dog chained up in one of the corridors that would kill any of us instantly - and we learned lock-picking spells in charms today! Love to Dad."

As a kid, you just imagine how damn cool it would be to get to go to Hogwarts and have adventures, but as the aunt of several nieces who just barely managed to survive to adulthood despite excellent quality helicopter parenting and notable lack of magic wands, I do wonder... why would an adult who is responsible for the welfare of hundreds of vulnerable children hide the Philosopher's Stone in their school, practically guaranteeing that Voldemort's agents would turn up there? Who approved sending eleven year olds into the Forbidden Forest in the middle of the night for *detention* without even ensuring they would have adequate adult supervision when a unicorn killing monster is known to be in there? Not to mention the giant spiders? What about the Whomping Willow? Allowing school to stay in session after all the adults are damn well aware that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened again and a deadly unidentified creature is on the lose within the walls? VOLUNTARILY ENTERING KIDS INTO THE GOBLET OF FIRE??

I mean, what is WITH this place? For heaven's sake, if you didn't know any better you might almost say it's like they're trying to, I don't know, kill the kids off on purpose somehow, cull out the weak, sift the wheat... from... the... ?

Yep. That's totally what the Wizarding world was doing, isn't it? Sorry, readers, but it's true. You're lucky your Hogwarts letter never came, because chances are that you wouldn't have made it out alive (me either, for the record).

Really, only Harry Potter's bulletproof rose-tinted glasses - conveniently provided by a total lack of the proper socialisation and vital attention required by a developing child, not to mention the routine starvation, neglect, and physical and emotional abuse of his family - allowed us, the readers, to believe anything different. The cupboard under the stairs made even a life in which he was continually thrown into near-death situations by his adult caretakers and expected to save everyone seem great by comparison as long as people fed him and noticed his existence. But for anyone else... well. I think Hogwarts would seem pretty much like Naomi Novik's invention in A DEADLY EDUCATION: the Scholomance.

Scholomance is what Hogwarts was really like. No one is happy to be on this school's admission list. It's effectively a meat grinder for magical kids. You're all alone there - there are no teachers, the school itself sets your assignments and punishes you gruesomely if you fail - and if the kids kill each other off? Well, what happens in Scholomance mostly stays in Scholomance. And you're not only potentially under attack by other kids, who want to move up the rankings, oh no. You're also under constant attack by 'mals', magical monsters who slurp up the fresh and shiny life force of children as if it were Mountain Dew and which, despite the best magical protections the school has to offer, have a nasty habit of popping out of the scrambled eggs on the breakfast buffet, from out of the plugholes in the shared bathroom, and even through the keyhole of your dorm room in the middle of the night.

Now, of course you can avoid going if your parents take you off the list - but even though your odds of getting out of Scholomance alive are roughly one in four (yep, it's brutal) it's still better odds than staying out in the world, where magical children going through puberty are monster magnets and your odds are more like one-in-twenty - and that's IF your family belongs to an 'enclave', a sort of wealthy, influential and privileged Feudal compound, with powerful adults who will probably be willing to risk their lives to defend you. Once you hit eighteen or so, the monsters don't consider you particularly interesting anymore, but in the meantime, you put everyone you love, including younger siblings who aren't yet going through puberty, and older relatives who may not have strong enough magic or the right affinity to defend themselves, in danger.

And if you're not in an enclave, like the heroine of this story - Galadriel, or 'El'? Well, not going to the Scholomance is basically just hoping that when the monsters eventually DO get at you, they eat your mum (or dad, or big sister, or the neighbour lady) first and give you time to get away. This is not cool with El, whose mum is a hippy ray of sunshine, an insanely kind, positive and powerful healer who only ever uses her power to make the world a better place and refuses compensation for any of her work. She's totally alone in the world and only escaped the Scholomance herself as a teen because Galadriel's father - knowing that El's mum was three months pregnant - sacrified himself to a hideous monster to save her life. El's mum lives in a commune in Wales and is beloved by everyone who meets her. She could have the pick of any powerful 'enclave' in the world. Except. Except that El is NOT an insanely kind, positive and powerful Healer.

Oh, she's insanely powerful, all right. In fact, she can pull the lifeforce out of any other wizard she likes, no matter how strong or well-defended, at the blink of an eye, and has an affinity for enchantments of darkness, destruction and death. When free-writing poetry, she accidentally creates spells to invoke supervolcanoes. She can literally kill you with a flick of her hand, and from a small child, people who look at her are inexplicably filled with (depending on their character) fear, revulsion or awe. Her own father's family, despite having adored her deceased father and practically worshipping her mother, tried to off her when she was a kid because they, vegetarian, Pacifist Good Wizards, were convinced she would bring about the endtimes, and was better off dead.

The only reason she is not already ruling the universe 'ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR!' style is that, thanks to her mum, she actually doesn't WANT to hurt anyone. Which, predictably, drives her up the wall, because the way people, even quite nice people, treat her - as if she was automatically a horrible, wicked person - means that she WANTS to want to hurt them. She just can't bring herself to really DO it.

El is Bellatrix LeStrange, if she had been brought up to have an unshakeable moral compass. Killing people and being wicked, cruel and villainous would be a piece of cake for her, and in order to be good, she has to work about ten times as hard as a normal person, because every time she uses magic it wants to twist into something dark. And she knows that if she gave into that urge, even once, she would end up respected, feared, unstoppably powerful, and SAFE - but also, on the path to becoming the monster she's determined never to be. She's bitter, caustic, antagonistic, and perhaps the most purely decent and moral character I've ever read. I LOVES HER MY PRECIOUS.

So much for our setting and protagonist: this is where people reviewing fantasy books usually talk about 'the magic system'. Personally I hate that phrase. Look, you have a drainage 'system', don't you, and how it works is that it's made out of metal pipes, and when you turn a tap it runs, and if it breaks down then you call someone with a spanner who will replace a part and it will work again. Magic, being the "non-meat by-product of existence", something fundamentally non-classifiable, illogical, elemental, spiritual (thank you, N.K. Jemisin) may have rules or ideals or spells, but if it has a 'system' - for instance, the one in Harry Potter, where you wave your wand a certain way and say certain words and unless your wand is broken or you got the gesture or words wrong, you get the same result every single time, just like flushing the toilet - pretty much bore me to tears.

This is why I always see questions in reviews for *my* books asking why the 'magic system' wasn't better explained and why didn't we get all the consequences explored and classified and why didn't I put down exactly why and how it all works? BECAUSE IT'S BORING! It's not a supposed to be like a magic trick, where there's a logical explanation for everything and the rabbit was up his sleeve all along. It's suppposed to be actual magic. And with actual magic, just like art, sometimes you do all the right things and it turns out awful, and sometimes the power of love is enough to fix everything and sometimes the power of love is enough to ruin everything, and somethings the thing you hated and sweated through and got wrong in every way is the best thing you ever did.

A DEADLY EDUCATION has *that* kind of magic. The good kind. The kind where there are certainly rules and spells, but where, just like in Garth Nix's or Lois McMaster Bujold's work, effort and intention are what powers your magic, and your dread and fear or even joy can warp reality (just like Heisenberg said! Well, sort of). I love how this kind of magic can have all kinds of unexpected effects and the interaction of differing factors can invent something entirely new.

The writing is absolutely smooth as silk. Not fancy, or lyrical, but just utterly competent and powerful and brilliant. You barely notice you're reading, it's so smooth. It feels like when Neo gets a programme for martial arts downloaded into his brain and just KNOWS how it works. And as a result the story is totally unputdownable. Gripping is an understatement. I downloaded it and began reading it at about 4pm and finished at 11 at night, having taken the smallest and most rushed breaks possible to eat, shower etc., each one of which felt like waking up from a dream I couldn't wait to get back to. However! I can sense that some readers - ones not as enamoured of Ms Novik's writing as I am, or as into the MC's unique, spikey narratuon - might find some of the exposition a little heavy, especially to start with. Ms Novik plays that trick of dangling something incredibly juicy at you and then using the tempting tidbit to lead you through a few pages of necessary information. Personally I'm all for that; I love worldbuilding. But if you're not, I recommend that you just push through it. It is WORTH it, trust me.

Secondary characters are a real strength in this, sketched with humane deftness, humour, and compassion, from the tentative friends to the out-and-out villains. We understand them all, even if perhaps we might wish not to.

I do note, though, that Orion Lake, the unlikely best friend the heroine makes basically against her will - and the character who gets the most screen time next to El - is probably the one I felt I knew the least. I wonder if that's because he's so clearly there as the Harry Potter analogue: the heroic Chosen One who always charges in to save everyone without thinking twice about his own life, or the consequences, but really just wants to be treated as human. I felt as if we were already meant to know him. But the thing is, he WASN'T Harry. For one thing, he comes from a life of immense privilege, not one of poverty, abuse and neglect - and he completely takes that privilege for granted, ending up totally shocked and bamboozled everytime El is forced to bitterly point it out to him. And every now and again he would do something deeply NOT HARRY-ish and make me really keen to get to know him better. But I never really did? Hopefully future books take care of this. Actually, I can't wait!

Overall - as is absolutely no secret by now - I adored this, wish I could go back in time immediately and read it again for the first time, and would be willing to read another five to ten books of it - preferably right now? This is a solid gold 100% recommendation from The Zoë-Trope. A DEADLY EDUCATION is out at the end of September. Run out and pre-order or put it on hold/request at your library instantly, or a maw-mouth will get you!

(Language Geek Alert: maw-mouths are the worst monsters in this book. I laughed for five minutes straight when I saw the name, and I like to imagine Ms Novik cackled in a similarly unhinged fashion when the name occurred to her, too. You see, a maw-mouth is a creature that has a lot of mouths. Thousands. And the word 'maw' just means mouth. So their name basically means 'mouth-mouth'. But the word 'maw' is pronounced 'more'. So they're mouth-mouths and more-mouths at the same time - and that's literally what they are! GENIUS).
Was this review helpful?

❝A sorceress designed from the ground up for slaughter and destruction might just be able to take out the one monster no one else could kill.❞

A Deadly Education is essentially what would happen if Hogwarts had a Hellmouth. The concept is captivating, except it never feels like there's a clear plot and most of the book is spent explaining the intricate magic system. The magic system is a standout, it's so original and well-developed, but there's almost too much focus on it. By spending so much time on the magic system, the plot finds itself lacking and even though a lot of events occur, they're all equally unmemorable and there never seems to be a peak in tension. I found it easy to put the book down, which was disappointing as this was my most anticipated read of the year.

❝We're not all invulnerable heroes.❞

My biggest takeaway from the book is I'm overwhelmingly neutral — I have no strong feelings or attachments to anything that happened. It's slow and I kept waiting for things to pick up, only they never did. I applaud Novik for creating such a diverse cast of characters and I think it's a pity they are neglected in favour of chunky, info-dumping paragraphs that didn't develop the story whatsoever. In terms of the story itself, it isn't nearly as dark as I anticipated, but I hope that will change as the series progresses. For such a cutthroat school, it is a tame, safe first book. Maybe I set my expectations too high, maybe the trick is to enter with none and you'll enjoy it more than I did . . .

❝I‘d set them all on fire gladly for five minutes of peace, and why shouldn’t I, since they’d all stand by and watch me burn instead.❞


❝I was a burdened soul and would bring death and destruction to all the enclaves in the world if I wasn’t stopped.❞

Galadriel or 'El' is introduced as a little bit of an anti-hero — she is shrewd, snarky and survivalist by nature. As amusing as her sarcastic character voice is, I struggled to click with her. Sometimes, the sass and snark is overdone and her insistence on hating absolutely everything is infuriating. Furthermore, instead of fighting the prophecy against her, she seems to succumb to it, which is baffling considering how much fight she has in her otherwise. Her complexity is an asset, but despite all the layers that she clearly has, El came off confusing and contradictory in parts. However, her outlook on life is gripping as is her morally dubious nature. She is very self-assured, which is something I can respect. If anything, I'm eager to see her growth as the series continues because she is closed off, but the ending with her finding genuine friends gave me hope there's more to her than we see. I can also appreciate that even if I didn't always like her, I understood her and her reasoning.

❝You’ve been white-knighting as hard as you can for three full years. You’re not going to fix the consequences by white-knighting a little bit harder over the course of a single week.❞

Our hero typecast and love interest is Orion Lake — an annoying name for a character with a lot of potential. He has a Chosen One complex forced upon him by those around him and is rather self-sacrificing, so I can't wait for him to break away from the role he's been cast in. At least, that's what I hope will happen. I found him to be obnoxious and presumptuous a lot of the time when it came to El, but it's important to account for first person bias, I suppose. It is clear there's some internal struggle with him and he's presented as the perfect, cookie-cutter kind of boy that would irritate me if he was the protagonist, but Novik was extremely clever in making the stock main character a secondary character because El's perception of him isn't skewed and it shows how even the heroes aren't always what they're cracked up to be. He opposes El in every way and there's so much left to explore with him, even if most would assume he's a cut and dry hero. 


❝Someone’s always got to pay, but why should Homicidal Todd get a leg up on anyone else?❞

Whenever El stands up to someone is really entertaining and empowering. It's El's character that drives this book and her outspoken nature makes for those most impactful scenes — such as when she calls out Todd and Chloe about how they treat Orion. Scholomance is dark and twisty with a lot of messed up rules, so El challenging the status quo and not being afraid to stand out in a school where friendships and alliances are the difference between life and death is fun to read about. The insight into El's mind and the nefarious protocols of the academy are beyond fascinating.

 ❝I want to have a daughter one day, a daughter who will live, who won’t ever have to scream alone in the night when monsters come for her.❞

Another part I enjoyed was El's vulnerable moments, something I wish we had more of, in fact. Although only mentioned in passing, El's desire to have kids and for them to be a little better than her is touching and evoked a surprising (if only) bout of emotion in me when reading. It's seeing the cracks in the character's hard shell that makes up for the sometimes lethargic pacing of events.


Whilst I tend to be a romantic, the romance is rushed and forced in this book. It seems to come out of nowhere and that's why my least favourite moment is Orion's and El's first kiss. There's no chemistry between them and Orion's interest in El seems superficial. I also didn't like her reaction — she breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader, which feels awkward and is an unnecessary break in the narrative. On the surface, the two seem like they could be an interesting romance, but not enough time is spent on developing them — Orion assumed they were dating the whole time? That screams communication issues! 


Do I recommend A Deadly Education? Well, I don't think I'd recommend it, but I wouldn't deter anyone from reading this either. It is clear Novik put a lot of thought into the book and the world of Scholomance, but the execution is lacklustre, prioritising long, boring paragraphs of information and action sequences with no tension most of all. In fact, I'd argue this would make the perfect TV show, alas the story doesn't jump out enough on page and I slugged through most of the chapters. A part of me feels like this book is one longwinded exposition that establishes Novik's magical world and nothing more. Since the ending is a partial cliffhanger, I'm open to reading the second book, albeit a little hesitant given how slow everything moved in this book.

Thank you to Random House UK, Cornerstone and NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?