Cover Image: The Last Graduate

The Last Graduate

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A delightful, exciting addition to the Scholomance series. I enjoyed the building of the narrative but still found the final fight scene to drag on a bit, but that's more personal choice. The totality of the book was well written and enjoyable. The third installment can't get here soon enough!
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It is now senior year and El and Orion have successfully cleansed the Scholomance of  the majority of the deadly mals, but can they survive graduation?  Can they help their friends survive with them?  There is more sorcery, romance and intrigue in this second book in the series which ends with a major cliffhanger.
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<b>Synopsis:</b> Senior year is finally here which means it's time for El, Orion, and the other seniors at Scholomance to prepare for graduation - a deadly ritual that historically leaves only a few survivors. Instead of preparing for graduation by building enough mana to get through the graduation ceremony, poor El is spending all her time fighting off mals that seem to be focused entirely on her. It's clear the school is out to get her because she gets straddled with the worst class schedule, in the farthest classrooms, and is grouped with freshmen. How is El supposed to store up enough mana to graduate when she has to keep using it to fight off mals and save herself from becoming a delicious snack to all the mals? 

<b>Review:</b> Usually second books in trilogies are the worst because they just act as a gap between the first and third books. The Last Graduate is not one of those, in fact, I loved it even more than the first book. How is that even possible? That rarely happens, in fact, I am having a hard time recalling another series where the second book was better than the first. 

I'm not sure exactly what it is, but I just absolutely adore El. I have found her so relatable, even from the very beginning. She is introverted, sarcastic, and often pessimistic. You can actually see the growth between junior and senior year because the character that closes out the second book is not the same girl we met at the beginning of book one. She is so honest and raw and that makes her likable and relatable, and even though she has a prickly personality she finds friends that love her for who she is, even if she is in an inner battle with herself to not go malificer. 

Novik has a gift to create vivid worlds, relatable characters, action-packed adventure, and gut-wrenching endings - wait what? Yes, you read that correctly! Seriously, what the actual f with that ending?! I'm pretty sure I just sat there staring at the screen for several minutes, slowly blinking, thinking - "wait, what just happened?" 

<i>“I think everyone else felt as I did, secretly and irrationally, that if we could only succeed, if we could only destroy the whole place, we could save ourselves from ever having been in here.”</i>
― Naomi Novik, The Last Graduate

Overall I give this book 4.5 stars because the story is that fantastic, but don't just take my word for it, read the series for yourself.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey Books (Random House Publishing/Ballantine) for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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A great sequel! I can’t wait to recommend this to my students. A perfect alternative for Harry Potter with a little more dark academia
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At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year--and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . .

I enjoyed this one as much as the first. Just like the last one, it leaves you wanting to devour the next book. I love El's relationship with Lake but the warning at the end of the first novel wasn't really explained in this one. It just lingered. I did struggle to get through this one but it wasn't the writing or the story I think I'm still having some issues with some of the world-building aspects. I just had a difficult time following what is actually going on sometimes. I'm still confused about the gym but overall it was a good read.
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(2.5 stars, rounded up)

Galadriel AKA El returns in the second book in the Scholomance series and is preparing for her graduation and the deadly battle that will take place while trying to exit the school.

The first book in this series was a study in fascinating world-building, but this second novel in the series slows the interest. With the world already established, the book lacks the hook that keeps you reading. There's a lot of politicking and trying to establish connections outside the school amongst the seniors.

El has a relationship with Orion Lake, the hero of her class. Her relationship with Orion is a side story that isn't well developed, making the reader question why they are together in the first place.

While the book is a slog, the chapters leading to the finale are quite exciting. I wish more of the momentum from the final chapters ran through the entire novel.

This is the third Naomi Novik book I've read, and I think "three strikes and you're out" applies here.

Recommended only if you loved the first book in the series.
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An amazing sequel! 

I found myself liking this even more than the first one, and I love when that happens! At this point, I’m so invested in these characters and their story. 

There were a few parts where I was a bit confused, but it didn’t lessen my enjoyment. 

Overall, a solid sequel that I thoroughly enjoyed reading!!
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Loving Galadriel, reluctant heroine, would-be maleficier, strident introvert, powerful young woman, is a necessary part of loving Naomi Novik's scholomance series. I fell in love with her ant-heroine antics in A Deadly Education, only to fall more in love in The Last Graduate. Book two starts off right where we left El and Orion, fleeing the senior graduation clean-up hellfire. It's the perfect continuation with our two heroes together, but it isn't long before El, being El, gets rid of him. The story follows along the same vein in terms of romance, but it is a huge departure from book one in terms of the roles they play in the scholomance. El is all hero her senior year, and Orion's golden boy image is completely tarnished without an abundance of mals for him to kill and hapless students for him to save. Since the tension of the roles they chose to play in the school drove most of the action in  book one, there is a marked drop in conflict. Most of it is the angst-driven kind instead of the life and death kind I loved from A Deadly Education. 

For most of the novel, I was lulled into a sense of calm. The rising action was delicately nuanced to the point that I could feel it mounting, but I could not exactly put my finger on the cause of my rising dread. It was very masterfully done. Until the last several chapters, it almost felt like reading the close of a duology. Then, in an instant, the world Novik painstakingly built using rainbows is snatched away, leaving me bereft, adrift, and hanging off the sheerest cliff face imaginable. I'm gobsmacked. How about you? Read it, and let me know. 

Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for sharing an ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
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Thanks to NetGalley & Random House Publishing Group for the early copy in exchange for an honest review.

WARNING: Really nasty cliffhanger at the end of this one. I appreciated the warning from the other reviewers so I was prepared, but here's another message about it in case you missed it...

"The Last Graduate" is a continuation of "A Deadly Education" so I wouldn't recommend trying to start the series with the second book, since there's a *lot* you'd need to know beforehand. 

This picks up after the last book and continues on with El navigating the chaotic and dangerous Scholomance. I liked that the other enclaves other than London & New York were highlighted more here and we saw more characters than usual. The school felt more alive in this one in a good way and I really loved that development.

My favorite parts were definitely when El and Orion hung out, I really loved their moments. It's hilarious how compatible they are but they're also both idiots...sweet, but idiots. ;)

I think this series is amazing, but it's definitely not going to be for everyone. Like with the first book, El rambles a TON so there's a lot of world building in her ramblings that are actually relevant to the story. There's a lot of blink-and-you'll-miss it parts, especially if you're looking for El/Orion crumbs like I was, ha. Still, it's a great series that's an amazing addition to the wonderful genre of Dark Academia.
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I was so-so about this book until the very end, which is the exact same experience I had with A Deadly Education. The Last Graduate has the same info-dumpy, long-winded conversational prose that's sprinkled with tangents. I really liked how the main conflict progressed but I won't say more about that to avoid spoilers. It's not what I expected and found myself gasping several times while listening on my work commute. 

If you find it difficult to read, like I did, I would suggest trying the audiobook. The narrator was excellent and made the prose much more palatable.
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Thank you so much, NetGalley, Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine and Del Rey, for the chance to read and review this book in exchange of an honest review.

After the jaw-dropping ending of the first book, The last graduate is the amazing and intense sequel of A deadly education by Naomi Novik. At the Scholomance, El, Orion and their friends and colleagues have to face their final year and the insane graduation process. El is determined to save herself and her friends, and something more (Orion), but the school is ready to complicate everything for them. Shelter is more and more difficult to find. Until El starts to understand that, sometimes, it's necessary throwing out all the rules.

The Last Graduate is brilliant. As in the first book, the worldbuilding is eerie and captivating, brilliant and interesting, between spells and monsters and relationships. El's voice is, like always, amazing, funny, full of wit and sarcasm, captivating and bringing the reader right away and into the story and the thrilling plot, full of twists, heart-racing and so much more.
El is strong, determined not to accept her destiny as dark sorceress, to be herself, not to choose the easy way out of the Scholomance. I loved her relationship with her allies and friends, and with Orion. Their relationship is truly amazing, I love them so much! But nothing is ever simple for El and I loved her determination and drive.
 
The story is well written, very intense and a real rollercoaster of emotions, actions and twists. Definitely recommend it. And after this insane ending, I need more! I need answers! I need the third book!
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I loved this book! It's really everything a sequel should be! Novik expanded the characters and plot and world into something new and fulfilling while maintaining an integrity to A Deadly Education. 
Exciting, intense, witty, quick dialogue, authentic characters, and a plot with depth and heart. Really an enjoyable read and a super fun ride of a book! Such a great book to get kids (and adults) thinking about society and their place in it. The fact that systems meant to protect us can go wrong, even if they're begun in the right place. But also that just because something's broken doesn't mean it can't be fixed ... or punted into a dark void if the case calls for it!
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*SIGH* This is why I should not start series that are not finished... because there is a sequel coming, and I need it with every fiber of my BEING. I loved this book so much I'm about to read it again via Audiobook (I do love the narrator they picked for El, she is fantastic).

From the beginning of the book you think your path is set in one direction, all the build up from the first book seems to be guiding us to a certain (and predictable) ending, nonetheless enjoyable. BUT Naomi Novik goes and throws a curve ball at us that basically changes the entire fate of the series, and the characters' stories. I do thank her for going the extra mile, but did she HAVE TO assassinate me with that ending?

My favorite, absolute favorite, part of this series is Galadriel. She is the queen of dark sarcasm, take no shit, non follower. I love her dry humor, her temper, how much she tries to be good even though her life would be 1,000x easier if she gave in to her darker nature (and she would excel at it too). I enjoyed seeing her struggle at being the hero for once; it seems the Scholomance has caught wind that she is the one to take down, and keeps throwing everything it has on her, making El choose between saving herself or saving the mortals around her (which is her eternal inner struggle). Even though El and Orion got closer since the last book, and can even maybe admit they might be dating, they are still friends first and El definitely doesn't change her ways when it comes to being eternally annoyed at Orion. It was also fun watching Orion struggling at being kind of useless since the Scholomance has no interest in him, and seeing all the inner group grow and become closer.

We get to meet a LOT of new characters in this book. As graduation is getting closer, people are making alliances and training like their lives depend on it. Though, it is becoming more obvious to everybody that the Scholomance, and the monsters, is smarter than anybody gave it credit, and in order to survive this graduation things will have to change  drastically.

The aesthetic of dark academia is basically this book. If you are looking for your fix, this is it. It is written so well, it is so entertaining, and if you are into Slytherin MC's this will be your cup of tea.
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Thanks so much to DelRey and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Okay, so this book....I needed to take a minute to gather my thoughts and calm down, because when I say that I hated the ending, I mean that down to my very soul. The only problem was that I loved every second of it, all the way until the very last page. So...my review.

The character growth in El was one of my favorite things, because seeing her learn to accept help and friendship was heartwarming, but also seeing her keep her sharp and sarcastic personality resonated with me a lot. Just as in the first book, I loved the world, and the magic, and the characters, who you really get to see a lot more of in this book. And Precious was, well...precious. I loved all of that. I could have done with a lot more Orion than we got, but the moments they were together made my little romantic heart so happy that all was well. 

Now, I'm not going into any true spoilers, but if you prefer to not have any inkling at all of anything that happens in a story, stop reading. 

The cliffhanger was the type of cliffhanger that has made me quit series in the past. It infuriates me when this happens, because I have a hard time seeing it as anything other than a marketing technique, either on the author's part or the publishers. We get no real resolution, not truly, because we can only see what happens from El's perspective. Were any of the other characters really okay? What happened to the school? (That's as deep as I'm going to go, I promise.) I am INFURIATED by this ending, because I spent nearly 400 pages falling back in love with these characters, and now, I am forced to wait an entire year to find out what happened to ANY of them, because there's no real guarantee than any of them escaped unscathed. I'd have even been happier had we gotten one more page, showing what happened to El immediately after that ending scene, but no, instead I am left 100% unsatisfied with the ending of this book. 

Unfortunately , I liked the entire rest of the book so much that I know I'm going to keep reading the series, but I'm pretty salty about it. The fact that the ending hurt my enjoyment of the book so much makes it hard for me to give it anything more than three stars, because even just a HINT of resolution at the end would have made it more okay for me.
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So I had an interesting relationship with this series. The first book was really slow for the first half because there was so much world building. And then I ended up loving the book. I flew through the second half and then the cliffhanger ending kept me hooked.

I was super excited for the second book because I thought I’d find out about the cliffhanger and it would start off strong. However, the first half of that he second book was so similar to the first half of the first - boring and confusing. We get VERY LITTLE interaction between El and Orion. And while it was interesting in the first book that El was so grumpy towards everyone - it got old in this one.

But THEN about the midway point again, the story really started to take off and I loved it. Seeing the kids as seniors was so fun and seeing the things they went through. And then there was yet again A HUGE CLIFFHANGER. At least this time I know the third book will really focus on the cliffhanger but man am I a little annoyed that it was finally getting great and just stopped. If there were like 3 more chapters that kept the momentum going I think I would have forgiven the first boring half and given it 5 stars.
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Sci-fi/fantasy novels are often written to be read in sequential order and The Last Graduate is no exception. Because the books tell one long story, this review contains spoilers for the previous novel – A Deadly Education – pretty much from the first sentence on.

El Higgins has successfully reached her senior year, not an easy feat in a school where a good percentage of kids don’t survive to commencement.  She and her friends, most especially Orion Lake, have repaired the cleansing equipment in the graduation hall, which means that for a few glorious days they will have at least a little peace from the largest and most deadly of the maleficaria, the child-eating monsters that roam the academy’s halls gobbling up the unwary.

El is going to need that advantage. Her new schedule has her starting the day in a type of study hall/homeroom, which she inexplicably shares with a group of freshmen. The rest of her course lineup arrives as she and the youngsters are arranging themselves into the safest formation against possible attacks, and it is worse than El could have imagined – she has four seminars, all of them odd and rare which will most likely mean they are independent studies or have a handful of students at best. At the Scholomance that’s practically a death sentence, since maleficaria like nothing better than to find a student alone/nearly alone as it places the odds definitively in the beast’s favor.

El has only begun to wonder if the school is out to get her when the baby vipersac attacks and she has a choice of letting a few of the freshmen die or using some of her hard-earned mana saving them. She does the latter with ill grace, which is a good thing because her maybe/who knows boyfriend Orion chooses the moment they are being besieged to come racing up the stairs to find El, making himself the primary target. They all survive but El misses breakfast so she is definitely hangry as she goes about the rest of her day.

Things only get worse over the next few weeks. Her seminars turn out to be as dangerous as she feared, and she finds herself saving the freshmen in her homeroom class on a daily basis. She is given no time or means to build mana, and her reserves – which enable her to fight maleficaria – grow dangerously low. Every time she goes anywhere or does anything to fix the problem, she is placed in mortal danger. But the school has a reason for its seeming torture of El. It wants her to learn something. Something all the students – and their parents – should have picked up on already. In Wisdom, Shelter is the motto emblazoned on the walls.  The Scholomance is determined that at least one student will graduate knowing what that means, even if it has to kill them to make them understand.

We learned early on that Ell is extremely powerful and has the capacity to do monstrously huge workings, emphasis on the monstrous. Using magic for a simple spell to clean her room is beyond her but bewitchments that involve razing cities or destroying entire populations are her forté (or so the prophecy at her birth claims). Since El has no desire to be an evil, world-destroying malificer, she has never seen a purpose to her “gift”.

A lot of the story this time around concentrates on El seeing her powers in a different light and realizing how they can be used to build rather than destroy. Helping her on this journey of discovery is the friendship of Aadhya and Liu and their budding alliance with Chloe, a girl from the New York Enclave who is a genuinely decent human being with the unpleasant task of trying to lure El to New York and away from her home in Wales.

Interestingly, just as El is being given all the options she ever dreamed of to leave the commune she grew up in, she is discovering how very much she has ingested the lessons she learned there. From performing healing circles for casual acquaintances to rescuing those actively trying to do her harm, and extending the hand of friendship to former enemies, she is truly becoming her mother’s daughter. El is still her grumpy, sarcastic, snarky self but she is allowing the heart of gold that has always been hidden by her crusty exterior to shine through.

That’s actually one of the main storylines in this second volume, which is very much a transition book, getting us from where we were at the end of book one to where the author clearly wants us for the beginning of book three. The change in El, as she begins to embrace more fully who she desires to be as a person and a magician while still being true to her grumpy nature, is great. I loved that she is expanding her friend circle and able to be part of a community with others and I loved how the cast of charactersiss so diverse and fun.

The prose is, as always, lovely, and I found myself easily enchanted by the tale of the semi-sentient Scholomance and intrigued by the mystery of what it is trying to teach El.

Less great is that while El is doing all that personal growth, Orion is reduced to almost a footnote until the end of the story. While this narrative is not a romance, the budding relationship between the two was an important part of El’s character arc in the last novel and having it take a background role in this tale left the story feeling incomplete. There are some strong interactions that almost make up for that in the last few chapters but then we have the finale -which is a total clif hanger that places both of them in a horrific situation that is seemingly impossible to get out of.

As I was reeling from the frustrating ‘conclusion’ I couldn’t help but think that there had been lots of ways to avoid it. Another frustration came from a problem inherent to YA: In order for teenagers to be resolving an issue, as opposed to adults, it must be an obstacle that is uniquely theirs and to which only they hold the solution, or the grownups around them must be complete incompetents or totally uncaring. The conundrums surrounding the Scholomance lean towards the latter and I found myself struggling to believe that any set of adults could be quite that negligent.

Middle books in a trilogy often serve as links within the overarching narrative of a series and that is certainly true of The Last Graduate.  While I found the characters as winsome, the writing as smooth and lovely and the general plot intriguing as ever, I was frustrated by the fact that it felt as though it was all just buildup for the coming main event and so I was left a bit dissatisfied.
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I'm hooked! While I enjoyed Naomi Novik's first foray into the world of the Scholomance, I couldn't help but feel like I was reading a list of worldbuilding rules and facts for most of the book. In the second installment, Novik picks up the intricate worldbuilding she established and runs with it, fleshing out her characters and creating one of the most compelling, high-stakes fantasy plots I've read in 2021. My mind still hasn't left the Scholomance; I'll be daydreaming about killing mals and wandering around dark, creepy corridors and classrooms for the foreseeable future.
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Another whirlwind installment of the Scholomance series. This book, to me, improves upon the first at every turn. The characters continue to figure out who they are and we're along for the ride with them (even the Scholomance itself gets in on the character development). The narrative style is the same as the first and might be off putting to some but it really works for me. So often books with this much world building and exposition just tend to dump it in pages and pages of lore or dense clusters of back story, in this series it feels as if every so often the author hands you a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. It's not always the thrilling piece you've been hoping for but it helps build the bigger picture of the world outside the school and who El is despite her best efforts, and who the people she surround herself are growing up to be.

The more I read about El the more I like her and the more I worry about what's coming next. I am so curious as to what happens next (AND ANOTHER CLIFFHANGER NAOMI HOW DARE YOU lol)

I think if anything was lacking in this book it would be the the constant dread of impending mal attacks that kept the first book so frantic but as that the attacks have died down is also an in story concern to the students it evens out... and the entire last chapter more than makes up for it all.
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I was a bit nervous going into this because while I love Novik's writing, and I thought the world was interesting, I wasn't particularly sold on the characters in A Deadly Education. But all the credit to Novok for pulling me in from page 1. The pacing in the story keeps you engaged and doesn't let up.
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Naomi Novik’s second novel in the Scholomance series is gripping from start to finish. While in A Deadly Education, protagonist El struggled to survive against the monsters (mals) which her school (Scholomance) provided partial protection from, in The Last Graduate, El finds herself grappling directly with the school itself. El and her schoolmates’ feat at the end of A Deadly Education seems to have fundamentally altered the behavior of the school and the mals that are in it. As El soon discovers, the change seems to revolve around her and her alone. In trying to find out what is afoot, El has to develop her powers in ways that she never let herself before. Ultimately, this sets her on a course not only to become a leader of the school (a position El is not at all comfortable with), but also to confront bigger questions about protecting the most vulnerable people in the school and the broader magical world.  

Novik is truly a master at world-building, and this novel is no exception. For me, the most fascinating part of the narrative is watching El struggle with her changing status in the school — from a reject to the person that everyone acknowledges has the most sway. Given that El had spent most of her time at Scholomance actively preventing this situation from occurring (even if she didn’t admit it to herself), this change is unsettling, and even disturbing, for El. Novik does a great job exploring the psychological shift El undergoes when El realizes that, within the school, she now plays the role of the enclaves (magical communities who are protected by very powerful wards) outside of the school. In other words, she gets to decide who is safe and who is exposed to the mals — essentially who lives or dies. While, unsurprisingly, El makes different decisions than the enclaves have, it was great to see El fully owning the power she has and the responsibility that comes along with it.

I also thoroughly enjoyed El’s developing friendships with Aadhya and Liu and her grudging (but growing) respect for Liesel. I appreciate that, unlike so many fantasy novelists, Novik gives considerable attention to relationships and interpersonal dynamics that are not romantic. As with the first novel, I have difficulty finding Orion interesting, in part because he is so passive. In general, he seems to be dominated by other people (especially El) or his own instincts, and when he does rebel in small ways, he comes across as a petulant child. Most of the other people in the novel think about their overall situation at Scholomance; Orion seems to just think about whatever is right in front of him or dream about a distant future. That said, I find El’s attraction to him, and her mistaken assumptions about what motivates his behavior, quite persuasive. (Who doesn’t create romanticized versions of their crushes/partners? And isn’t that all the more tempting when one is addled by teenage hormones?) For this reason, and unlike most other people who have read the novel thus far, I don’t find the ending of the book to be an especially troubling or tantalizing cliffhanger. Novik set up the ending so that we saw it coming from a mile away, and it seems fairly clear what El will be up to in the third novel. I was far more riled up about the ending to the first book than the ending to the second. That said, I will, without question, read the third as soon as I get my hands on it. There are very few writers who can match Novik’s ability to create compelling magical worlds and storylines.

A final note about The Last Graduate: I have mixed feelings about some of the explanations given for the overall structure and operation of the school. The idea of Scholomance being semi-sentient/conscious is persuasive to me, but some of the explanations about how the school operates seemed convoluted and far-fetched, even within the logic of the magical world Novik created. To be fair, many of these explanations were El’s early interpretations, which were ultimately proved incorrect. (I don’t have a problem with this — El is an imperfect character who is reacting to the circumstances she finds herself in.) But other explanations which were still in place at the end of the novel felt cobbled together and far too convenient for the storyline: for example, how the school can obtain and use mana from some sources and not others; how the school acted *so* differently last year when the underlying premise of the school (to protect its students) was supposedly the same, etc. There are certainly ways of accounting for these issues, but I found that the ones provided in this novel strained credulity more than those which were found in A Deadly Education. All in all, though, the second novel in the Scholomance series does not disappoint — and I already can’t wait for the third.
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