Review | A Deadly Education (Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik

Loved it. Can’t wait for the next installment. 5/5 stars.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik book cover

Thank you to Random House UK for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered.

There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal.

Once youโ€™re inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.

El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the schoolโ€™s many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions โ€“ never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.

Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying her hardest not to use it… that is, unless she has no other choice.

My take:

I’ve previously read and thoroughly enjoyed both Uprooted and Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik and gave them both 4 stars. But with A Deadly Education she’s finally done it and pushed me to a rare 5-star review!

The Scholomance – the setting for A Deadly Education and arguably its biggest character – is a magic school/school of magic that does its best to kill the students trapped inside. Staying alive is their incentive to learn. There are no teachers, no adults at all in fact, just a load of kids getting along in a life and death struggle until the survivors “graduate”, which involves running a final gauntlet to the school exit through a tunnel of horrific monsters.

At this point, you may be thinking you’ve seen this all before: stories about schools of magic aren’t exactly thin on the ground. But what marks A Deadly Education out as truly different is the first-person narration. El’s voice is clear and marvellous. She’s strong, grumpy, powerful, furious, hurt, scared, loyal… basically a mixed-up teenager living in a pressure-cooker that’s trying to kill her. She’s incredibly prickly and can be very blunt and rude, but you understand why she’s this way and seeing her lower her defenses a little as the story progresses is one of the great joys of the narrative.

Because, for all the monster battles, what the story is really about is being a teenager: making friends, navigating school politics, figuring out who you are and who you want to be. The female friendships in particular made me smile and provided a few really good laughs by the end (remembering one of the final exchanges still makes me chuckle now).

The character of Orion is also brilliant and his unstoppable shining heroics are such a perfect (and often amusing) foil to El’s wall of grumpy defensiveness.

If I have to be critical, I’d say there are a few long infodumps near the start of the story as the author is setting up the world. But do not be deterred if you feel these bits are a little slow. They’re all essential background and allow the story to really take off about a third in and it doesn’t slow down after that.

In case it matters to anyone, I think this is YA. I don’t think that should matter, because whoever it’s being marketed to, ultimately it’s a great book. However, just in case it helps you adjust your expectations before going in, I thought it worth mentioning.

Overall: absolutely brilliant. The only downer is that this is book one in a series and ends on a tantalising cliffhanger… argh! The next book can’t come quickly enough!


Claire Huston / Art and Soul

11 thoughts on “Review | A Deadly Education (Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik

    • It’s brilliant. The first person voice might put some readers off (she is very sarcastic and very teenaged!), but you come to love her as she’s in an impossible situation and doing her best. The infodumps early on are very long and a bit heavy-going, but I forgive them because it’s all going to be necessary for the rest of the series. And the idea itself of the school trying to kill you is just brilliant. It’s certainly incentivises learning!

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