“In magic, intentions matter.”
Lesson One of the Scholomance: Learning has never been this deadly.
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.
“I’m a potential dark witch of apocalyptic proportions.”
In Scholomance, it’s learn or die 💀 It’s dark academia on steroids with evil magic and monsters lurking on every corner. The book starts really strong with El’s intense personality immediately sucking the reader in. There is no sense of gradual build up, you just know that you’ll have to do your best to keep up with her, and I’m saying that as a compliment. She is not the typical “The One” character you normally meet. She is not prophesied to save the world. On the contrary, she possesses all the qualities of an evil witch.
The school where the story is set is pretty much run by its own magic, in fact it is built into what El only calls the Void. There are no teachers. The students take care of themselves and if you think that that’s something unrealistic, Novik will prove you wrong. It is quite fun to see young people so independent in their pursuit to learn, though you can also argue that it is only expected in a place where everyone is on survival mode. There are monsters on literally every corner. I actually enjoyed the character designs of all the scary creatures big and small, so if you’re like me that likes those kinds of things then you might want to pick this up.
“And we all get the illusion of a chance. But the only chance they’re really giving us is the chance to be useful to them.”
The rules of magic are extensively explained and makes sense. The worldbuilding is not just there as backdrop, but filled with active elements that affect the plot. Scholomance is a character all on its own. Throughout the book you may ask the question of whether the school is evil or not– personally I think it’s not, it just does what it does because it is its nature, and it was built that way by none other than the arrogant humans of history. The novel further explores nuanced concepts of good and evil, so it will ultimately be up to the reader to decide their own definitions.
“…the place was built by geniuses who were trying to save the lives of their own children, and you’re unspeakably lucky to be here being protected by their work. Even if you’ve only been allowed in as another useful cog.”
The book does have its flaws–some parts may feel dragging especially when El discusses the technicalities of their school/magic system but that’s it. I live for the bursts of emotion and insight in the middle of her monologues. There’s also a number of tedious rants, but it’s worth it just to realize how El’s magical world reflects our own reality. I loved it especially because I don’t think I’ve ever read a fantasy novel discuss the twisted structure of institutions and the injustice brought on by social privilege with such passion and freshness. The book is essentially a metaphor that challenges how we perceive our education systems, and the reality that comes after graduation.
“You feel like it’s going to rain.”
I love El for her logic and no-nonsense approach to life. She holds feminist values and just wants to be recognized for her own worth. She may seem disagreeable and mean, but when one is not raised from a position of privilege they do tend to go on defensive and even offensive mode if needed, because it’s the only way to survive in a world of limited resources. So yes, she may have been born with all the affinities and countenance that make a dark witch but she is missing one crucial element: her intentions are kind and pure.
“My anger’s a bad guest, my mother likes to say: comes without warning and stays a long time.”
Due to El’s personality and inhibitions, the book does not only feature a slow burn romance but slow burn friendships, too. El finally opening up and trusting people is such a joy to see. Another treat is the mother-daughter relationship between El and Gwen. They made me tear up so many times. I’m hoping to see more of her sweet mom in the next installments of the series. I also want to see how El will find a way to control her strength. I hope for her to finally have her moment, and be able to showcase her impressive potential without worrying about harming others.
I am excited with the direction Naomi Novik is taking us in order to show that evil is not defined by who we are (in terms of race, gender or family background), but by the choices that we make every day. This is my first time to read her work and I am obviously in love. I should have read her sooner. Apologies to a lot of you that has recommended her titles to me a million times!
Big thanks to PRH International for sending over an ARC of Naomi Novik’s A DEADLY EDUCATION. This fact had no influence whatsoever on my final review. A few of my thoughts on this post may also appear in similar/familiar form in Fully Booked blog’s First Impressions of A Deadly Education featuring other Filipino bookworms.
MY JOURNAL SPREAD
The use of newspaper clippings for the letters took more effort than I expected, but it was also fun. The ghosts are borrowed from an old comics coloring book. I hope the artist (Brent Sabas) forgives me for cutting them out. ✌🏻 The Void was one of my favorite elements from the book. I’m glad I found an easy way to do it and I love how it came out.
“She says it’s too easy to call people evil instead of their choices and that lets people justify making evil choices. Because they convince themselves that it’s okay because they’re still good people overall inside their own heads. And yes, fine. But I think that after a certain number of evil choices, it’s reasonable shorthand to decide that someone’s an evil person who oughtn’t have the chance to make any more choices. And the more power someone has, the less slack they ought to be given.”
About the Author
An avid reader of fantasy literature since age six, when she first made her way through The Lord of the Rings, Naomi Novik is also a history buff with a particular interest in the Napoleonic era and a fondness for the work of Patrick O’Brian and Jane Austen. She studied English literature at Brown University, and did graduate work in computer science at Columbia University before leaving to participate in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadow of Undrentide. Over the course of a brief winter sojourn spent working on the game in Edmonton, Canada (accompanied by a truly alarming coat that now lives brooding in the depths of her closet), she realized she preferred writing to programming, and on returning to New York, decided to try her hand at novels.
Naomi lives in New York City with her husband and six computers. Her website is at naominovik.com
A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published September 29th 2020 by Del Rey Books
Original Title: A Deadly Education
ISBN0593128486 (ISBN13: 9780593128480)
Edition Language: English
Series: The Scholomance #1
Genres: Fantasy | Young Adult | Magic | Horror | Paranormal