A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
The Scholomance is a school like no other. There are no teachers. There are no vacations. There are no friendships. There are only magical students, locked up to learn to protect themselves against a world that wants to devour their powerful essences. And El is the most deadly of them all—except she can’t prove it unless she wants to destroy herself and murder the rest of her classmates and fulfill her prophecy of death and destruction. Until the hero of her year, Orion Lake, swoops in to save her not once, not twice, but three times! El will not abide.
I really, truly enjoyed this book!
I loved El, the snarky, antisocial heroine who is very much a product of her times. Her mother is the most amazingest white witch on the planet, and her father died getting them (her mother was pregnant at the time of graduation) out of Scholomance. She has been rejected by the Indian side of her family, who saw death and destruction within her, and has been ostracized and terrorized her entire life thanks to her powerful latent magic.
The side characters weren’t as powerfully drawn as I would have liked, but I did enjoy how they were all products of their environment and the circumstances that being a wizard meant in this weird world where demons are everywhere.
They wanted comfort, then they wanted luxury, and then they wanted excess, and ever step of the way they still wanted to be safe, even as they made themselves more and more of a tempting target, and the only way they could stay safe was to have enough power to keep off everyone that wanted what they had.
The privilege of those who were in the enclaves versus everyone else, and the compound wealth of having things passed down from student to student within the school and the sharing of magic, was very well done. There were so many parallels to the inequalities of now within Scholomance, and how the enclave students saw their privilege and didn’t care because it allowed them a better chance at survival in this cruel, cruel world. It meant that the non-enclave kids had to be meaner, smarter and more ruthless in order to survive in a world destined to have them be demon food for the rich.
The most ridiculous character, then, in this world where everyone was little stabbing each other in the backs for a little something nicer, was Orion Lake. The scion of wealth, power and privilege and utterly unaware of just how good he had it and how he too was being exploited.
I enjoyed his not-a-relationship with El, and how El was just like, ugh fine yes let’s everyone think we’re dating so I can get some street cred but not like pity-cred but omg no Orion can’t find out we’re fake-dating because then my plan is ruined!
The downside to this book was that the info dumps hit, and they hit hard. That is the problem with writing an introspective, antisocial character. Everything is in their head, and El is so smart and so isolated that it’s not like she has friends she can talk to. Plus, she’s so smart that she’s thinking in a bajillion different angles every second even when awful, horrible things are happening and because she’s terrified that she will turn back and accidentally use life-force magic instead of white magic and fulfill the prophecy.
However, while I understood the exposition, there was…a lot of it. And I enjoyed El’s voice, but sometimes the snark and sarcasm were a little overwhelming and I kept thinking stop fucking THINKING and get a move on with the action, kid!
BUT. There is a shit ton of action and a lot of creepy shit, even if sometimes it felt like it was creepy for the ~aesthetic~ of dark academia meets demons. The demons were all creepy as fuck, however, which made it all the more believable that everyone was as locked into survival mode as they were. Generations of this hell meant everyone was a rat bastard.
And the ending. What a cliffhanger!
Holy exposition it cannot end like this! I need book 2 in my life right now.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.