A Deadly Education


Naomi Novik


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

July 28, 2021

aven't we had enough stories about young wizards attending magical academies? Apparently not, because Novik has written another one. To her credit, it is an original take on a well-trodden path. She has new ideas, and is a good enough writer to make the story fresh and interesting

El (short for Galadriel, her mother was a Tolkien fan) is in her third year of study at the Scholomance. She is wickedly powerful, her special talent is spells that cause massive destruction. But El doesn't wish to be an all powerful evil-sorceress, so she tries to learn spells and do her lessons like any normal magic user. But it is hard to not tap her deadly abilities, because the Scholomance is besieged by monsters. It seems that the entire lesson taught at Scholomance is survival. And most of the students fail, meaning that more than half don't live to graduation. (On graduation day, the seniors are expected to fight their way through a hall of monsters to reach the exit door. El's own father was killed on his graduation, as he fought monsters so that El's mother could escape and graduate.

Attending the Scholomance, in El's class, is Orion Lake. Orion has an incredible talent - he can fight the Scholomance monsters and win. And not only that, when Orion destroys a monster, he gathers its magical power to himself. Orion overflows with magic power, while people like El have to struggle to collect enough power to complete her lessons and to stay safe. Orion is a hero, he saves the lives of hundreds of his classmates, and since he has so much power, everyone wants to be his friend - surely Orion will the survive the hall of monsters on graduation day, and so probably will his friends.

El hates Orion. She is entirely the opposite of him - no friends, shunned by all the fellow students, and perpetually short of magic power. Part of the lack of friends is her own personality: El is cynical and abrasive - she has been treated badly all her life, so clearly anyone who would befriend her really has an ulterior motive. But Orion befriends El, even though he clearly gains nothing from being friends. This drives El crazy - she doesn't want friends, she doesn't know how to be a friend. On the other hand, a year from now, El will be facing her own graduation day, and having allies would really help...

If there is a flaw in this novel, it seems as if El keeps having to explain new details of how the Scholomance works, or she describes the monster that currently is attacking. And there always seems to be a new type of monster attacking. The Scholomance itself seems contrived - a school existing in a vacuum, literally cutoff from the outside world, monsters without number. There are no teachers, the students are largely self taught. But the most important lessons are on how to survive.

At the end of the novel, El is still in the Scholomance, though her junior year has just ended when the preceding class marched into (and hopefully, out of) the graduation hall. Book 2 will undoubtedly cover El's senior year - now that Novik has finally defined all the monsters and the setup of the Scholomance, hopefully there will be more action and less explanation.