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A Deadly Education

by Naomi Novik

Series: Scholomance (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6723325,243 (4.1)53
From the New York Times bestselling author of Uprooted and Spinning Silver comes the story of an unwilling dark sorceress who is destined to rewrite the rules of magic. I decided that Orion Lake needed to die after the second time he saved my life. Everyone loves Orion Lake. Everyone else, that is. Far as I'm concerned, he can keep his flashy combat magic to himself. I'm not joining his pack of adoring fans. I don't need help surviving the Scholomance, even if they do. Forget the hordes of monsters and cursed artifacts, I'm probably the most dangerous thing in the place. Just give me a chance and I'll level mountains and kill untold millions, make myself the dark queen of the world. At least, that's what the world expects me to do. Most of the other students in here would be delighted if Orion killed me like one more evil thing that's crawled out of the drains. Sometimes I think they want me to turn into the evil witch they assume I am. The school itself certainly does. But the Scholomance isn't getting what it wants from me. And neither is Orion Lake. I may not be anyone's idea of the shining hero, but I'm going to make it out of this place alive, and I'm not going to slaughter thousands to do it, either. Although I'm giving serious consideration to just one. With flawless mastery, Naomi Novik creates a heroine for the ages-a character so sharply realized and so richly nuanced that she will live on in hearts and minds for generations to come.… (more)

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» See also 53 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
Turns out I'll read pretty much anything that Naomi Novik writes, the way that she talks about class, acceptance, and the value of relationships (especially as a parent). All those things snuck up on me in the course of this book. Looking forward to the next one(s) being released. ( )
  jumpinggrendel | Jan 24, 2021 |
Originally posted on Tales to Tide You Over

I finished reading A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1) last week, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but reviewing the book turned out to be a struggle. When I try to describe it to people I think would enjoy the story, the book sounds like pure horror. It definitely has a dark side, but the characters pulled me in as much as the world. This is a complex, magical, alternate Earth with magic costs measured in mana from effort or in the equivalent stolen from life. The characters face both tangible obstacles in the form of mana- and people-eating monsters as well as ones created by how they were raised.

Those with the ability to interact with magic start accruing mana naturally from their daily activities at puberty. It’s not without cost, however, as the existence of mana attracts all manner of magical, and deadly, beasts. This is only half of the framework, with the second part being the Scholomance. It is a school created in the void to give students a place to learn to control their magic with some measure of safety.

The school’s original design attempted to protect them from everything, but it proved fallible. By the time of the story, magical beasts have taken over the bottom of the school and some breach the other levels each year. Freshman are collected by a spell and apparated into the school cafeteria. There are no breaks, not for summer, spring, or holidays. Once there, school is in session straight through for four years.

To graduate, seniors must fight their way through the largest and most powerful beasts on the bottom floor. Only those who make it out the gate into the normal world succeed. A good year is when half of the graduating class survives.

The above is why it sounds like horror, and those are driving elements so expect some mortal danger. At the same time, all the traditional pieces of a high school drama are present with cliques, social ostracism, and jockeying for position to name a few.

What makes this story different from a mainstream high school drama is not just the magic. Every high school trope has a concrete reason beyond teenage psychology. The cliques are composed of those with membership in one of the enclaves. They have access to more resources and have better survival rates not just after school but during it. The jockeying involves attempts to earn the possibility of a spot in one of the cliques or to make an alliance that might be strong enough to survive graduation. The ultimate prize is an invitation to join an enclave after graduation, as the dangers don’t cease after schooling, but survival runs a close second.

This world is complex, the reasons things happen are multi-leveled, and the characters have many layers with what you first see not always offering the full story. The main cast (with Galadriel and Orion as leads but a good number of others surrounding them) experiences growth as they figure out not just what motivates others but themselves. They make hard choices, and success is not always within their grasp.

Galadriel guides us through the story as an extremely personal narrator. She didn’t seem likeable at first, but she was relatable. I understood her reasons for acting the way she did and could see myself doing the same given her circumstances. The longer I spent with her grumpy, bitter self, though, the more I grew to like her.

We experience things through Galadriel’s perspective, whether or not her interpretations are correct. She comes with baggage after her father’s family rejects her on first sight because of a vision that she’ll destroy everything. One character likened meeting her with the feeling of realizing it’s about to rain when too far from shelter.

Yes, I’m enamored of the description, with this as an example. The writing is pure poetry at times.

Orion is almost her perfect foil. He runs around saving everyone, but he doesn’t want to be the hero. He wants to believe everyone has the same right to live and the same chances, never considering his attempt to change things could have consequences.

It’s up to Galadriel to open his eyes to the truth of life outside an enclave in the rudest way possible. The dialogue, especially between these two, is another reason I enjoyed the read. It hints at more than we know, offering hooks to keep me reading.

The characters were the strongest element for me, though I found the world intriguing. The series also starts at the end of their junior year, implying we’ll see them beyond the graduation gates before the series concludes. I also found impressive how the modern narration here bore little resemblance to the other Naomi Novik book I read recently. In both cases, the voice matched the story.

The book tackles big questions of how life is valued along with the little ones such as whether Galadriel deserves to be liked. It’s powerful and intense with layers-deep characters, mortal danger, and self-discovery. There are as many humorous moments as horrific, and sometimes the two happen at the same time.

The complexity of the world and the effects of blind privilege works as does the prophecy’s impact on Galadriel. Amazing analogies make even harsh truths understandable. And the school is equal parts frustrating and amusing as they deal with the smaller distractions along with the potentially deadly ones.

Had I read the blurb first, I might not have been so willing to try the book. Instead, my son recommended it, and I’m glad he did. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next one for sure. My library had a copy in eBook, so it’s worth checking if your eBook budget is already tapped. ( )
  MarFisk | Jan 15, 2021 |
Galadriel, known as El, is 16 and a junior in the Scholomance for sorcerers, a sentient boarding school sort of like a very dark version of Hogwarts. Every day in the school the students - more than 4,000 of them - face an obstacle course full of monsters (“maleficaria” or “mals”) trying to kill and eat them. “Graduation” is the final big test, when, in order to get out of the school, they have to run through a gauntlet of all the hungry mals lying in wait; less than a quarter of the class is ever expected to survive. El thinks this isn't so bad; she calculates that if you’re an indie kid like she is (not part of an enclave of other wizards), and you don’t get into the Scholomance, your odds of making it to the far side of puberty are one in twenty. Thus, “one in four is plenty decent odds compared to that.”

Students try to make alliances to help protect one another, so everything becomes transactional - e.g., I will pry a tray of food away from grasping mals for you in the cafeteria if you get them away from a place to sit at a table.

For El it is different, however. She has never had friends, and can’t understand why no one likes her until one classmate told her, “You feel like it’s going to rain.”

El’s mum is Gwen Higgins, the renowned beneficent shaman, so she doesn’t tell anyone at school; they would just be “shocked that the great spiritual healer had produced creepy proto-maleficer me . . . “ She allowed, “Anyone who wanted to be friends with Gwen Higgin’s daughter very much didn’t want to be friends with me.”

Thus she had to think and plan and strategize how to survive every single meal and class and trip to the bathroom in school, and she was tired of it. She was also tired of all of the others hating her for no reason, nothing she had ever done. She never hurt any of them; on the contrary, she had been working herself to exhaustion just to avoid hurting any of them, although they have no idea just how powerful she is. She observes sardonically:

“Some sorcerers get an affinity for weather magic, or transformation spells, or fantastic combat magics . . . I get an affinity for mass destruction.”

Or as she tells her classmate Orion Lake, “My affinity is laying waste to multitudes, so I haven’t had much opportunity to try the experience.” He thinks she is joking….

Orion has an ability to destroy most of the mals that roam through the school, and has taken it upon himself to keep an eye out for El and rescue her when necessary. Orion liked to hang out with her because she was the only one who didn’t genuflect to him, who treated him like a real person, and was in fact not very nice to him at all. She reasoned:

“I don’t have a very good idea of how people behave with their friends normally, because I’d never had one before, but on the bright side, Orion hadn’t either, so he didn’t know any more than I did. So for lack of a better idea we just went on being rude to each other. . . .”

Orion got an augmentation of power from killing the mals. After he killed one, he saved that new store of power to fire off the next spell. If he was low on power, he could borrow some ("mana") from his fellow New York enclave members. The New York enclave was the single most powerful enclave in the world, and Orion’s mother was one of the top candidates to be its next leader.

Orion has been saving other students as well, so that less than twenty juniors have died so far this year - the usual rate is a hundred plus - but there is an unexpected side effect. The mals are hungrier than usual . . . .

Discussion: You may wonder, what about the rest of the world, i.e., the world full of “mundanes” (read: muggles). El explained: “Mundanes aren’t exactly invulnerable to mals - but they have one extremely powerful protection; they don’t believe in magic.” Acceptance is necessary for the magic of wizards, who “believe in magic, the ways mundanes believe in cars.” It is there; you just have to see and acknowledge it. This is a common trope in fantasy, and I love it; it is the perfect explanation for how all this magic can be going on in the world but nobody seems to know about it.

The character of El is terrific; she is hurt and angry from a lifetime full of rejection, and her awakening to friendship in this book is a joy to behold. The other female characters in the book are nuanced and interesting, and they grow in character as well as the year - and the story - progresses.

If it occurs to you that the idea of a high school full of monsters out to get you, with particularly tough gauntlets to run in the cafeteria, by the lockers, and in the rest rooms, may be metaphorical, I had that thought myself. Looked at either way, it's a very clever and entertaining story.

Naomi Novik is such an exceptional author. I have read almost all of her books, and each book or series of books is as different from the others as you can imagine, but equally wonderful. Moreover, all have impressed me with their fantastic flights of imagination and creative world-building.

Evaluation: This is book one of a duology, and it ends on an unexpected note that will have you champing at the bit for the next installment. ( )
  nbmars | Jan 11, 2021 |
Novik, Naomi. A Deadly Education. The Scholomance No. 1. Del Rey, 2020.
What Naomi Novik does best, especially in books like Uprooted and Spinning Silver, is give an original fantasy twist to localized fairy tales and folklore. Unfortunately, that is not what she does in A Deadly Education. Here we have a school the magically gifted set in no particular place—one where the mean girls and boys enforce their cliquishness with deadly force. It is also a straight up young adult romance. Our very goth heroine, Galadriel (her mother was a Tolkien fan), struggles with her own violent impulses and her distrust of people. Her mother taught her more positive values, but this is a school, after all, where seniors are perfectly willing to feed unsuspecting freshmen to monsters that hide in the walls. It is a Hogwarts where there are no professors, and all the children practice the dark arts. Hufflepuffs would be unlikely to survive. 3 and a half stars from me. ( )
  Tom-e | Jan 10, 2021 |
Thank you to Edelweiss for the ARC!

I love Spinning Silver and let's just say this is not Spinning Silver. It's fantasy horror. Basically in the realm of Middlegame by Seanan McGuire but more unrelenting.

In spite of all of that, I got really attached to the main character. Still, the process of getting there was not fun for me. I'm not a horror person at all, but like Middlegame, I HAD to know what happened otherwise I wouldn't be able to let it go.

The world Novik builds is terrifying and very slowly metered out. I didn't really understand some concepts until a good 75% into the book and then things clicked into place. It was definitely like being dropped in the deep end for most of the book; I felt like I was constantly building up understanding of even the very walls, much less the social structure. It could have definitely used some editing. There were whole pages I skimmed through because they felt redundant and I didn't want to get annoyed at the main character (somehow I felt like it wasn't her fault that the author was repetitive for certain things).

So all in all, a traumatizing read to fall in love with a character I can't let go but totally never want to enter that world again. ( )
  RachellErnst | Jan 5, 2021 |
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I decided that Orion needed to die after the second time he saved my life.
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From the New York Times bestselling author of Uprooted and Spinning Silver comes the story of an unwilling dark sorceress who is destined to rewrite the rules of magic. I decided that Orion Lake needed to die after the second time he saved my life. Everyone loves Orion Lake. Everyone else, that is. Far as I'm concerned, he can keep his flashy combat magic to himself. I'm not joining his pack of adoring fans. I don't need help surviving the Scholomance, even if they do. Forget the hordes of monsters and cursed artifacts, I'm probably the most dangerous thing in the place. Just give me a chance and I'll level mountains and kill untold millions, make myself the dark queen of the world. At least, that's what the world expects me to do. Most of the other students in here would be delighted if Orion killed me like one more evil thing that's crawled out of the drains. Sometimes I think they want me to turn into the evil witch they assume I am. The school itself certainly does. But the Scholomance isn't getting what it wants from me. And neither is Orion Lake. I may not be anyone's idea of the shining hero, but I'm going to make it out of this place alive, and I'm not going to slaughter thousands to do it, either. Although I'm giving serious consideration to just one. With flawless mastery, Naomi Novik creates a heroine for the ages-a character so sharply realized and so richly nuanced that she will live on in hearts and minds for generations to come.

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