Cover Image: A Deadly Education

A Deadly Education

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Member Reviews

Sometimes, books are very easy to talk about, and reviews write themselves: things are great (or maybe not great, but still notable), and I am very excited to point them out! Other books are not easy to talk about, and when that happens it's usually a failure to connect: a book that was probably fine, but which left me without much that I'm desperate to convey about it, and looking for the right words to describe the experience is a more active challenge. And then... then you get books like A Deadly Education, Naomi Novik's latest offering. This book is hard to talk about because, wow, where do I start.
Well, let's start with the basics. A Deadly Education is set in a magic school with the horror dialled up to eleven: set in the Scholomance, a school which annually scoops up a mostly-preselected group of magical teens from around the world and dumps them in an educational facility mostly located in a void dimension (which, in turn, is located in the UK, because where else would a magic boarding school be??). There appears to be a fully fledged, functioning society beyond the walls of this magic school, but we only catch glimpses of it through flashback, because for four years the students of the scholomance are locked in without adults, holidays or even any school supplies that aren't either brought in through freshers or provided at the whims of the school's magical replenishment. This is because in this version of our world, magical kids are walking magnets for various magical monstrosities which view them as soft, tasty targets to devour. The school is supposed to protect them from this fate, but monsters are nothing if not persistent, and every year only a fraction of the top class gets the opportunity to graduate, and an even smaller percentage makes it through graduation, because graduation (you guessed it) involves even more monsters.
The reader is guided through this nightmare scenario - in a lot of descriptive first person prose - by El Higgins, a Junior year student (yes, this international magical boarding school in the UK has an internal structure based on the US high school system) who is fighting an uphill battle not just to stay alive against the monsters, but to do it alone, while trying to control a magical aptitude that wants to push her towards being mana-sucking evil sorceress with an arsenal of destructive spells. El hasn't made any friends during her stay at the Scholomance so far, but she's biding her time for a big magical gesture that will make everyone around her pay attention and ask her to join their team for graduation, maybe even getting her into a wealthy, protected magical enclave in the process. Complicating this plan for survival is Orion Lake, her year's big superstar, whose own affinity means that he's saved an impressive proportion of his own year from being snacked on by monsters before graduation. That's great news for everyone who hasn't been a monster snack, but bad news for the class about to graduate, who are facing an unusually busy and hungry graduation "ceremony" when they leave the school.
El is a rather dense and self-sabotaging protagonist, so when Orion starts showing an interest in her - first as a suspect in another student's murder, but then as, shock horror, an actual friend - she decides this is terrible, actually, and spends a lot of time trying to shake him off. But it's too late: Orion's interest in her gets El noticed by the wider student body (especially the students of the elite New York enclave to which Orion belongs) and also pushes her to start thinking about choosing her own friends, notably artificer Aadhya and dark-mage-gone-clean Liu. Readers who are wondering if maybe this is the book where Novik will push these interesting female relationships into the foreground over having the day saved by heterosexual attraction: sorry, nope. El's chosen friendships do play an important role, but they're ultimately second fiddle to her relationship with Orion and the plots surrounding that, and it's El and Orion - from among the main cast, at least - who end up saving the day.
This book has been strongly criticised for its handling of race, and particularly one thoughtless (by the author's own admission: http://www.naominovik.com/apology/) and racist passage involving Black hair. Beyond this, there's been a range of reactions, both positive and negative, from reviewers of colour reacting to the broader setting and how the international setting of the Scholomance is handled. As a white reviewer, it's not my place at all to pass judgement on the points raised, but there's no escaping the fact that El's world is a mix of the kind of diversity you get on Captain Planet or the Star Trek bridge, with students from every continent and culture apparently converging in this corner of Void!Britain and slotting into a mostly homogenised school culture. Language is a big part of spellcasting, and most students, El included, have a curriculum focused on learning as many languages as possible in order to cast spells in them. There's also a very obvious but unremarked upon prevalence of white characters in the key positions of power (the New York and London enclaves) that El finds herself butting heads with. El herself is mixed race, but was raised by a white British mother and rejected by her Indian relatives due to her magical affinity. There's nothing inherently problematic about that - characters of colour shouldn't have to justify themselves with some threshold of cultural performance to exist, and there are plenty of mixed race and diaspora people who grow up without strong cultural connections to some or all of their heritage. But it's impossible to ignore the fact that real world prejudices and inequalities do appear all around this worldbuilding, even if the setting is supposed to be divorced from that context. As a reader, my reaction to those prejudices being replicated in an ostensibly representative text is to look to whether I trust the author to be doing something intentional and therefore potentially worthwhile: is this book trying to say something, or am I just experiencing the author's dead angles replicated on the page? Passages like the description of locs, or another moment where El identifies a language worksheet as being "modern" Arabic because it has cartoon depictions of terrorist acts on it, make it really hard to interpret A Deadly Education as doing anything but the former. And, sure, there's a lot of books and authors out there doing worse things, and caring a lot less - and in many ways, it's A Deadly Education's commitment to trying to imagine a genuinely diverse, international magic school that makes its dead angles so obvious - but that doesn't make the failings here less disappointing, especially as this is a book that had resources for sensitivity reading.
Frankly, this kind of thing leaves me tired. The Scholomance is an interesting take on a trope that still has great potential, but I don't want to read about societies of international sorcerers, and their special magic schools in a story that expects white wizards of the US and UK to be the centre of power within that international system. It doesn't help that, despite enjoying her previous work, there are other elements in the kinds of stories Novik seems to want to write that are exhausting to me too: I am tired of having interesting relationships between women dangled in front of me and then pushed aside for heterosexual pairings that are at best "meh" and at worst super creepy, and I'm tired of stories that subvert their subgenres on the surface while still being tied to the same patriarchal nonsense as their predecessors. A Deadly Education is, in many ways, an enjoyable book: a bit grim, a little slow to start, and very invested in its explanations, but ultimately a lot of fun. But as a multiple award winner and nominee, I think Novik's work asks to be held to higher standards than that, and this is a book that falls short in a number of unfortunate ways.
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As a Naomi Novik fan, I was looking forward to reading A Deadly Education. Dark Academia is a much-wanted genre right now with the likes of Ninth House, The Secret History, become favourites, despite the latter being published nearly thirty years ago, and this is why A Deadly Education came out at the perfect time. It was a shame to see the controversy around some of the sensitivity issues which maybe could have been handled better but it was still a thoroughly enjoyable read.
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Last book of the year! I enjoyed this a lot, especially the practical magic system and the murderous school concept. It was a nice sideswipe at all those stories where the kid/teen protagonists are constantly in mortal danger but are not technically supposed to be and all the adults act like teenagers having to risk their lives to save the day is somehow normal. 

El was a great protagonist. One of the things I absolutely love about Naomi Novik's young female characters is that they get to be angry - not a bit stroppy for character spice, not just quirkily sarcastic, but proper angry, for reasons. They don't take it on the chin or smile graciously or swallow bullshit so as not to upset some delicate status quo. They get to be inconvenient and furious and express their frustrations and it's wonderful. 

I loved the theme of trying to find your people and feeling you don't fit in; watching El try to navigate the pitfalls of alliances and rivalries while figuring out who she is and what her hard limits  are was so compelling, and I absolutely adored her negotiations with people who might turn out to be not just allies but friends. Friendship arcs ftw!

I couldn't help noticing some parallel themes and dynamics previously encountered in Sarah Rees Brennan's In Other Lands. They're clearly incidental and multiple stories can explore similar themes, obviously; also El can hold her own as a unique protagonist. It did mean though that I got very bored with Orion very quickly - Luke Sunborn he is not, and I couldn't help the comparisons, since both the Reluctant Golden Boy thing and the dynamics with El just felt very familiar. It's a minor issue mostly compounded by my shamelessly biased and unending love for In Other Lands. (Mostly I'm just waiting for Orion to grow a personality of his own.)

Very much looking forward to the second volume! Can't wait to see what these crazy kids get up to next.

PS: El, you absolute brat. Your mum is 34 AT MOST. How very dare you describe her as "going gently plump in middle age"?? Detention for a week! Teenagers.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Sometimes there is a book which comes along at the wrong time.

I had loved Spinning Silver and Uprooted by this author so thought this was a book I would love.

However the concept of a "wizarding" type school where students draw on  "good" or "bad" energy wasn't enough to keep me reading at this time.  The narrator's voice was wry and knowing which was an interesting feature.. Iy was well written.

Another time I will probably devour this book but sadly not now.
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An interesting take on the "magical school" setting, this follows El and her classmates as they try to refine and learn magic in an environment where everything is trying to kill you and alliances are key to survival. A fun read, though sometimes it is prone to lengthy exposition. I will be looking out for the sequel!
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Incredibly inventive and addictive, A Deadly Education gives Dark Academia' a run for its money with the Scholomance.
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Magic, monsters, and dark academia. Did I need further reasons to read this book? NOPE.

Who, What, Where?
In A Deadly Education, our lead is Galadriel ‘El’ Higgins, a teenage witch with a talent for destructive magic. El is currently in her penultimate year at Scholomance, an international school for young mages with a frightening survival rate. Dropping out isn’t an option so students have little choice but to push through their coursework whilst trying to avoid getting eaten by one of the many monsters lurking throughout the school’s corridors and crevices. And even then, they still have to make it through graduation.

A Prickly Heroine & Bland Hero
El is far from your traditionally likeable heroine. She’s snarky, rude, foul-tempered, frequently annoying and has a doom-filled prophecy about her to boot. This, among other things, made the early parts of the book a struggle for me to get through, particularly as it’s told in first person. However, as the book went on, I got to learn more about El’s history and came to understand why she’s so bitter and angry at the world and acts the way she does. After a while, I found that she’d grown on me, like a stubborn mould, and I was genuinely happy to see her build up some genuine connections by the end of the novel with people who saw past her prickly exterior.

Aside from El, the other major character is Orion Blake, golden boy and protector of students everywhere. While I didn’t dislike Orion, I did find him somewhat bland and it massively frustrated me that there was no explanation for his apparent “specialness”. This aside, I did really like his and El’s bizarre friendship. It’s mainly El telling Orion what an idiot he’s being and him simultaneously being frustrated by it and liking it because nobody else treats him like a normal human being. I can get behind that.

The Supporting Cast
There are quite a few side characters in this book. Although they’re ethnically and linguistically diverse, for the first half I found them to be vague and flat. Much like with El though, a few of the more prominent ones did improve as the story progressed, namely Liu, Chloe and Aadhya, who each developed their own traits and minor side plots. By the end I had a much greater appreciation for these three and really enjoyed seeing their relationships with El evolve.

Tell, Not Show
Good news: the world is good. Bad News: We get told about it in ridiculous amounts of info-dumping. And we’re not talking easy to follow stuff, we’re talking complicated world-building necessary for understanding much of the events and dynamics between characters – magic sources, specialisations, languages and their relationship to magic, the structure of magical society, etc. It’s especially prominent in the first couple of chapters. After the opening hook I kept waiting around for an actual scene or conversation to take place for a good while.

Info-dumping aside, I just don’t think I’m much of a fan of Novik’s writing style. This is something I noticed while reading Uprooted a few years back. It’s dense and wordy (unnecessarily so), there’s a large amount of inner monologuing, and a tendency to spend time on things that aren’t important to the story or the reader’s enjoyment, e.g. the history of a spell El uses at a high-intensity moment. While I was interested in the general gist of the book, I found myself bored and skimming chunks of it from time to time.

Wanted: More Plot
Another thing I see people having problems with is the plot. Or the lack of one until about 70% of the way through. Most of A Deadly Education feels like a collection of small subplots happening as El goes through her day-to-day school life. These include El figuring out what to do after graduation, her relationship with Orion, the resulting antagonism with the New York kids, Liu’s struggles with malia (dark magic), etc. For the most part though, it’s just El and the other students trying to avoid being killed by a variety of determined and crafty creatures which Orion regularly saves them from. Once a larger plot became apparent it did provide some context to a few of the earlier events and I quite enjoyed where the story ended up climax and ending wise.

Racial Controversy
Over the last few months, there’s been discussion online about certain elements of this book being racially offensive (e.g. a problematic passage about locs). As a white, Australian reviewer, I don’t feel I’m the right person to comment on these, especially as others who are better qualified than myself have already done so at length. I should also mention that Naomi Novik has apologised for some of these inclusions and vowed to do better in future.

______________________________
A Deadly Education gets some things right and others, not so much. If you’re already a dedicated Novik fan, you’ll probably enjoy this latest offering. Despite the book not living up to its full potential in my eyes, with how things ended I’ll probably give the sequel a go when it releases in 2021.

3 STARS
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I’m a Potterhead (and I’m not ashamed of this, sorry not sorry) What this means? It means that when I hear about a book about magic school and wizards I jump headfirst into the book.

But I set my expectation way too high this time.

Scholomance is a school for magic. Just like Hogwarts it is based in England and has his stairs moving around the school. Here all the similarities end. Here, we don’t have teachers, we don’t have grades. But we do have a curfew and better be in your room before the ring, because if you are out and about it’s most likely to end as a maleficaria’s dinner feast. The possibility to end up in a maleficaria’s stomach at the end of your studies is much of possibility anyway.

Scholomance is a deadly school. There are maleficaria (kind of demons) that live there and feed with mana. What’s mana – this is their magical source if I can describe it this way. So to be able to do a spell they should drag from their mana sources. Mana can be collected using different methods. El’s favourite is to do exercises or to crochet.


Who is El? Galadriel or El is our main character. It will be sweet of me to say that she is simply unlikable. Let say that even her grandparents wanted her dead. For her to survive graduation, she needs allies. But she has a bit of a problem – nobody likes her and nobody wants her as an ally.

Why she needs allies? Right, so the magic world is ‘separated’ on different enclaves. Enclaves are groups of witches and wizards who share mana between themselves. They have share mana between them with power-sharers. The enclaves kids are most likely to survive graduation. What’s so scary about graduation? Basically, you and all other graduates, are going to be thrown in a hall full with hungry maleficaria. You have to make it to the other end of the hall to get out of school. For the purpose, you will need a lot of mana plus some useful spells, and of course – somebody to look at your back. That’s why the enclave kids have the greatest chances – because of their endless mana sources, shared via power-sharer and because they, by default, have allies.

But this year will be different. All because of our hero – Orion Lake. He has a goal to kill every mal that crossed his path (and he even goes out of his way to persuade mals). As a result of this mals are hungrier than ever and threaten to break down to walls and make a feast out of them all. So they should come with a plan on how to save the school and its inhabitants.

I have a problem with engaging with the story. It took me a good amount of time to go into the story. The main reason is that it started out of nowhere. There are some details thrown here and there and you have to pick up the pieces and solve the puzzle.

There are so many questions that wanted for answers and postponing the answers irritated me instead of thrilled me and make me wanna read. The relationship between Orion and El is so foggy, I couldn’t even get it at the beginning. I may stupid, but I got so annoyed with the book because I couldn’t get what’s happening, which bored me so I left the book and end up reading it for a full two weeks.

Probably I may give it a second read through next year before the sequel comes out, but for now, the book isn’t something exceptional for me.
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A Deadly Education was one of my most anticipated reads for 2020, and Naomi Novik's first adult novel, which was very exciting for me, since I loved her previous books, which are both Young Adult, but have been less interested in reading YA lately. I was not really sure what to think of El's narration at first, it surely was really funny, but it felt a bit too funny, a bit too joke-y, bordering on the silly. I also felt that the narration style meant that we did not get a lot of world exposure or building, except for the info-dumping that El does when it suits the plot (something in the line of "And then a monster appears and it's terrifying! Oh by the way let me explain for the next two pages what this monster is and why it's terrifying at all"). So this felt like it cheapened the narrative, the plot and the world building. So for the first quarter or third of the book, I was entertained, but a bit skeptical. 

After you get used to it, though (and also you get more of El's background story which was so, so interesting and sad, plus I think she got less snarky as the story goes on), I found that it worked for this book, for a simple reason: this was basically Hogwarts on steroids. So, you don't really need a lot of background on the school or wizardry, because your knowledge of the Harry Potter series kind of fills the gaps that are missing. Naomi Novik spoke about how she based her book on the well-known series and basically imagined it darker, gorier and as an adult series. So you don't feel completely lost during the novel, but I did not like that when I was missing information, I just immediately thought of how it worked in Harry Potter and that was quite enough until the next info-dumping session. 

This is probably why this book is a bit over 300 pages long, instead of the 500 that I expected. I imagined this book to be different from how it really way, a more serious, epic kind of fantasy story, and took a bit of time to get used to El's voice. But I eventually did, and I had a lot of fun reading this. She's so snarky and her attempts to stop herself from becoming an overpowered Dark Lady are amazing, and I think ultimately this book conveys a message of: you are more than what people think, you can be better despite everything if you work really hard and privilege benefits a small minority and will always, always rely on the suffering of others.

I realized eventually that it reminded me a bit of the narration by Harrow from Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #2), although I much preferred Harrow. El sounded to me like the YA version of Harrow, which is also maybe why it took me a while to warm to her, since she read so much like a YA character to me in the way she behaved.

I read about the controversy regarding the locks quote, and I agree it should be removed from the printed version - which I saw that Naomi Novik will do and I'm glad she took the criticism to heart. Otherwise, the diversity of the novel did feel artificial to me, it just looked like a white person adding a checklist of representation (I had similar feelings about The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab) but I think it was still nice to have a half-Indian main character and lots of supporting characters from different countries. Brilliantly executed? No. But that's okay. I hovered between 3 and 4 stars for this book, but in the end I had a lot of fun reading this and devoured it in a couple days (plus the ending has me !!!!).
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Summary:

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.

Opinion:
Naomi Novik is one of my favourite authors since I read her fantasy novel 'Uprooted' a few years ago so when I read that her new novel was going to be about a dark magic school with dark academia vibes I knew I had to read it. However, my experience with the book was a bit of a mixed feelings relationship.

Things I like: I adored the world-building (the atmosphere, the importance of spell books and how they can run away from you if you don't take care of them). I love the idea of this school being alive, as if its own entity...and quite dark (although I have to admit I was constantly imagining this old-fashion-wooden school, despite of being quite metallic ). I love the idea of the alliances and how all the students are left alone to safe themselves. My relationship with the main character, although it wasn't very good at the beginning (I do not know how to deal with always-angry-teenagers), ended up being a good one. I ended up being very protective of El. In fact, I adored the flashbacks from before the school (dark and scary at the same time). Oh! AND THE MONSTERS! THEY WERE SCARY. SCARY. VERY SCARY. Oh, and THAT ENDING. Novik knows how to do cliffhangers.

Things I didn't like: First of all, I had the feeling, for the 80% of the book, that I was being told about the events instead of living it (with a lot of info-dumping as well). This made me feel very disconnected from the story and the main character for most of it. Secondly, I would have love to explore how the spell-creating aspect of the book a bit more, specifically, I was very disappointed about El, being specialized in rare linguistics used English all the time to conjure. I understand that is the language the book was written but I do believe that this idea of spell-creating-study-path was a rare and interesting choice to based the roots of the character and her connection to magic so I would have loved to see it a bit more. In  addition to that, although I loved the alliances, I had the feeling that they were created very quickly (I would have love to see them developed...although I guess that's something it would be explore in the next book).

Overall: I recognize that I had very high expectations towards the book and that may have affect my opinion on it. However, I enjoy it and I know its sequel has a lot of potential. And I cannot wait to read it.
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Free copy provided in exchange for an honest review. This in no way changes my rating or review.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Rating: 5 out of 5.
5 obsessed stars!

I LOVED this, and I don’t even know why. It was somehow both incredibly confusing and incredibly addictive, and the writing style was absolutely STUNNING, but I can definitely see why people would hate this.

This book was shockingly unique. A school with no teachers, where only 1/4 of the kids make it out of the school alive? That’s a new one, and so was this entire world. Ripe with deadly monsters and a crap-ton of violence, book 1 in The Scholomance was definitely a unique concept.

“In fact, it’s entirely possible there are loads of unknowing potential wizards out there, people like Luisa who could hold enough mana to cast spells, only they’ve been raised mundane and so they can’t, because they don’t know that magic works, which means it doesn’t.”

Does that make absolutely no sense to you? Welcome to Scholomance, where I only understood about half of what was happening. Yeah, the info-dumps definitely didn’t help – and there were a lot of them – but surprisingly I actually didn’t mind the fact that I comprehended practically nothing! I felt that it just added to the charm of the book, increasing the violent and confusing atmosphere that Novik so wonderfully wrote about.

And then there were the characters! I honestly really loved El, but I can definitely see why people hated her, because she was a real bitch. I didn’t even mind though, her insults were just so creative and wonderful (did I highlight them for the soul purpose of using them in the future? Yes, yes I did. But don’t worry, I’ll put the best ones in a list below.) and her personality – acidic though it may have been – was really easy to relate to and was really believable. I also really loved Orion – the Scholomance golden boy – and his relationship with El, their very minimal romance combined with their hilarious friendship was just absolutely wonderful. Orion was like my little child, and I’m so glad that El had him at her side.

“-what are you doing?” he burst out.
“What?”
“Why are you being this nice?” he said. “Are you mad at me for something?”

Yep, that just about sums up El and Orion’s relationship. Wonderful, isn’t it?

Now, this book didn’t really have a plotline, but I honestly didn’t mind that much. It was still very addictive and entertaining, and the world was crazy enough that it barely needed a plotline – just the life of El was weird enough! Be warned though: there’s a bit of a cliffhanger, and it killed me a little. I can’t wait until July… book 2, here I come!

All up, this was an absolutely hilarious and wonderful book! Thank you so much to the author and publisher and Netgalley for this brilliant ARC :)).

~ Darce❤

EL’S GREATEST INSULTS:

“it’s Galadriel…. and if that’s too many syllables for you to manage all in one go, El will do”
“He’s going to be fine!”
“No, he’s not, I’m going to back his head in with a brick”
(not really an insult, but it’s funny anyway)
“It’s a grogler, you brainless cod!”
“Don’t even open your mouth in my direction, you overgrown lemming”
“Orion Lake, that means you, you tragic blob of unsteamed pudding, we’re going. Orion!“
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So the main character has been described as a “female-led Harry Potter” and I've heard good things about Naomi Novik so thought I'd give it a try.
The author goes in to quite a lot of detail and the plot is about the story of the school and the protagonist’s family 
Galadriel is irritable and rude but clever and loyal. Her male counterpart, Orion is just as likeable.
It was different, maybe aimed at someone younger than me but I enjoyed the novel and I will definitely read more by this author and also the sequel
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I was hoping that this would be a fun and intriguing book filled with magic and mischief and I was not disappointed. It tells the story of El, a young student of the Scholomance, where students learn magic in an extremely hostile environment and only 1 in 4 of them make it out alive. I really enjoyed the setting and thought that the school was fascinating. There is definitely more to explore here, but Novik gives enough exposition to ensure that we can place ourselves firmly in the world in the first half, so that we can get swept up in the adventure of the second half. I loved El as a character and thought that her arc here was really compelling. At heart, this is a coming of age tale and I enjoyed the journey very much. Overall, I thought this was a great introduction to the series, and I can't wait to see what will happen next.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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Despite promising a refreshing take on magical schools and attempting to create a complex world rooted in global influences, this start to a series is highly disappointing in the manner it fails to execute sequences and develop characters even remotely understandable, as well as the downright infuriating idea of checking diversity boxes through a complex biracial representation—and potentially deleting an entire part of the culture identity in the name of one's conservative paternal side disowning them—and sprinkles of real world parallels diluted by linguistic annotations and drowned in clichés and stereotypes that perpetuate financial, cultural, and lifestyle misassumptions and unnecessarily preconceived notions.
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I have mixed feelings about this books, I really like the concept of the books. The whole idea about the magic school.  But the main character at time just put me off. Also there was so much description.
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Magic schools are something of a buzzword for me, the start of which was likely a wee castle you may not have heard of from a 7 book series. I have continued to read books with this trope and enjoy them a lot. To the Island of Roke, to Brakebills University right full circle to the Unseen University I always come back. I'm also a fan of Naomi Novik so a deadly Bloodborne school with magical teens in her hands sounded so promising. Sadly, this was a bit of a mess. 

This one was a big letdown for me. I have only loved Naomi Novik's books in the past and the premise to this is very promising. The biggest failure I found with the book was the world building. This was my biggest issue. Usually I look at every element of a book right down to format to try and assess did the way the writer executed their world, especially in a fantasy setting. I've seen some instances where the type of world building Novik tried to use definitely worked but here, everything felt like floods of information that stopped the story where it stood to just tell us about some magical abomination. 

I don't like the term 'info dumping' myself but that's kind of what was happening here. There are parts where there is pages of exposition to tell us about the Scholomance and all the scary things that live in it and how the students cope, which I did want to know but I didn't want to have the entire story to stop to learn it. That being said, this is the first book in the series. I'm hoping that now this is laid out for the story to come, that the focus can be on the story itself and what's happening to the characters. 

Getting to the characters, El is a great main character but in her presence the others kind of pale. El (short for Galadriel. Yes THAT Galadriel.) is a biracial girl who is fighting tooth and nail to survive her time at this school. Something I really liked was how El is this magician that is totally built and being guided toward the darkest, most destructive magic possible but she is trying to steer away from it. There is something very fun in reading a character who is so powerful they could end the entire school in 3 words, but just won't give in. Something that does come up a lot from El's perspective and just as a general discussion, is the divide of class and privilege in this school. 

There are little cliques of these kids who offer alliances to survive graduation and who have known each other for years before they attended the scholomance. Think the kids from the Shadowhunter families being sent in here and the advantage they would have over pretty much anyone else of any race or culture or background. That is something I really did enjoy, El doesn't tolerate anyone and isn't afraid to speak her mind to people acting the absolute privileged maggot. She is also a grumpy fuck which I will always appreciate as well. But it's also clear she got most of the character pie too outside of Orion. 

There is a good magic system where those using standard magic, need to create the energy to use it (or, if going dark, need to kill for it) and that takes actual work. I loved this aspect of magic in other series like Rivers of London and Lev Grossman's Magicians trilogy. But the book can't be held up by that, an interesting main character and some good discussions on privileges. The plot doesn't have much else beyond El and Orion, which would be fine if that was all this was about but it's a book about a dangerous magical school with creations right out of DnD. 

I'm really wanted to love this one but ultimately, I am disappointed in it. I do have faith in the series as it continues and hope the author will learn from the criticism that was rightfully given. I have tried to review this as carefully as possible but I may also have gotten parts of this wrong but again, that is why you should search out more reviews BIPOC in the first place. Thank you to Del Rey and NetGalley for this copy of the book to review. Thanks for checking in guys, happy reading to you all.
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DNF. I couldn't connect with this book at all and found it really hard to get into. I had high hopes for this, which is a shame.
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Loved it! It's a gripping and highly entertaining story, a sort of dark fantasy that mixes well known tropes like the magical school with a fascinating and well developed word building.
The characters are fleshed out and interesting, the plot tightly knitted.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an advance copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Great book. I loved reading it. Very interesting and covers alot of information
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For me personally this was a 3 star read but I have given it 4 stars based on the actual target audience who are considerably younger than me.

Novik has tried to be racially inclusive in her writing (I think characters from the whole world are mentioned at some point) this has lead to accusations of racism. Personally I only noticed one while I was reading and it was not the “dreadlock” issue that apparently set Twitter afire. 

I don’t want to say too much about the characters or the setting as that could provide spoilers instead I want to look at the themes explored in the book and why they make it more than just a book about magically gifted children tackling evil.

At its heart this is a story about secondary school /sixth form (UK terms ages 11-18). For most of the pupils this is their first time away from the comfort and security of home, it’s about finding your feet, finding yourself and defining who you want to be. It’s about making friends and learning what you can achieve and about learning the importance of working together.

You would think in a book with literal monsters trying to kill the human characters the distinction between good and evil would be obvious. Not so instead this book explores all the grey areas that can occur when you are fighting for your own survival. It also explores the idea that good actions can have unforeseen negative consequences.

I love the way Novik casually throws in references to other books my favourite being “Reader, I ran the fuck away”.

There is also a particularly hilarious scene involving a mothers warning about “Secret Pet Mals” I actually did laugh out loud at this because I can so clearly see the mother giving the advice and the reaction of other students when it is revealed.

Overall I found this to be a fun book about the whole school experience with monsters thrown in to complete the adventure.
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