Book Review: “A Deadly Education” by Naomi Novik

My First Impression Friday musings were correct: our main character, El (short for Galadriel), is snappy and rude with everyone she comes across, because she holds a giant grudge against the rest of humanity for not helping her when she was young and she encountered her first “mal” – creatures that prey on those with magical abilities. She knows that the only way to survive graduation (when the seniors are left on their own to fight against a horde of mals) is to form alliances with others, but she can’t let her inner rage monster stop for just a second to give herself a chance of surviving.

I think that’s the worst part of the first half of the book for me – El is so stubborn and resistant to looking at anyone else in the Scholomance for help that when she does get friends, she pushes them away with all her might just so she won’t look weak. In short, she is the angsty teen that I dreaded going into this book, and that I’ve spent most of the book screaming at to just let them help you, you know you’re going to need it next year, why won’t you just form an alliance now and leave them after you leave the school?

Without giving too much away, I am incredibly proud of the growth that El goes through during this novel. She changes from angsty teen to someone that I can almost respect, and she does it in small ways. It’s not just a sudden “Oh, and then I was sweet and kind to everyone I came across” kind of thing. No, it’s small, real-life growth instead of a reveal all at once that she’s changed her entire life around.

A Deadly Education was supposed to be the first part of a two-part series, but Naomi Novik has recently said that it’s turned into a trilogy (because we all know that when you write a book, it takes a mind of its own). I am incredibly excited for this trilogy, because this book is one of the better ones I’ve read this year. The issue with it being the first part in a series, and the first part of a series set in a world that’s vastly different from anything the reader knows, is that a lot of the book is taken up with explanations. The first few chapters are a bit of a slog, with El explaining the details of every single thing she mentions, to the point where I was half glad of the explanation but half irritated at having to read a page-long explanation for every single new noun that El used. I’m hoping that now the first book is over, we won’t be treated to nearly as many explanations in the following books.

When you use the word “wizard” when discussing a book, the first thing most people will think of is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, because it’s been ingrained in our heads and in pop culture so you can barely turn a page of a book without someone referencing Harry Potter. The Scholomance is not Harry Potter. There are no teachers, only creatures waiting to eat you if you do not pay attention. It’s mentioned that over half of the graduating class does not survive their first three years, and then a further half of what’s left do not survive graduation. It’s honestly refreshing after the stereotypical “wizard boarding school” novels that I’ve read over the years. It’s not trying to be the next Harry Potter. It stands well enough on its own, and I don’t think the two are similar enough to even be mentioned in the same sentence.

If you are looking for something different from your magic-using series, this is the book for you. It is something entirely new (at least to me), and it is something I am very much looking forward to finishing. I am a little worried that with a strong of a first book that this one is, that the next two (or the ending!) will be a tragedy, like what happened with the Inkheart trilogy (I love the first book, tolerated the second, and can’t stand the third). Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pre-order The Last Graduate.

And as always, keep reading.

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