A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik. New York: Del Ray, 2020, 320 pages.
Many of us dream of a magical world where we can attend wondrous schools such as Hogwarts. Places that sparkle with possibilities, wonder, and the joys of magical learning. I can promise that no one will daydream of attending Novik’s Scholomance, a school where every moment could be your last. The students must be constantly on guard; picking a table at lunch can only be made after careful consideration of all potential escape routes and risks.
For the magically gifted, attending Scholomance is actually a safer option than spending one’s teenage years in the outside world. The world is full of monsters and demons that are only visible to those who possess magic. These monsters are particularly attracted to budding wizards and witches. To keep them safer, a magical school was created to contain and teach children until they were adults. However, monsters are constantly finding their way into the school through cracks and vents. There are no teachers or grades in Scholomance. Learning for the sake of survival is enough of an incentive.
The snarky protagonist of the story is El. She was born with a magical affinity for mass destruction. She cannot manage a cleaning spell, her magic would much prefer to wipe out whole cities. Her gloomy personality tends to match her dark powers and she struggles to make friends. Instead, her goal is to reveal enough of her strength to make a powerful alliances to increase her chances of survival.
The polar opposite of El (and her biggest annoyance) is Orion Lake. A golden boy with a privileged background who is determined to act as the school’s knight in shining armor. His personal mission of killing all of the nefarious creatures in the school has allowed more students than ever to live. However, it has upset the balance of the school which could lead to disastrous consequences.
Novik has crafted a fantasy novel that will appeal to those appreciating original world building and plenty of dark humor. Prickly El in her role as a reluctant heroine is incredibly likeable. While you are eagerly anticipating book two in the series, enjoy Naomi Novik’s fairy tale inspired novels such as Uprooted and Spinning Silver.
Amanda Gramley is the Adult Programming Coordinator with the Alamance County Public Libraries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.