Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Author: Naomi Novik
Published: September 2020
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pages: 336 [paperback]
Thank you so much to Penguin for sending a copy my way in exchange for an honest review!
VERDICT: WORTH IT
Initial Thoughts Upon Finishing
And you know what?! I’ve got nothing bad to say. This was brilliant. Hilarious, dark, brutal and irresistibly sassy. There is nothing not to love in this dangerous magical school!
A Deadly Education
This is an utterly unique story about a school of magic with a very dark side. The Scholomance is a place for magical families to send their children but it comes with an unusual graduation statistic. Either you graduate, or you die.
With this thrilling premise set for us, it’s a rollercoaster of a story as we try to work out how our main character, El (short for Galadriel), fits into the bigger picture. Especially because El has an affinity for dark magic (basically). She’s a bit of a nobody with no friends and is cold to most people. Her mother is really well known but she doesn’t like people to know that she’s her daughter. It’s a constant battle for El to scrape by, get goods marks and control the enormous power she holds within for dark sorcery!
The school itself has no teachers and only students. It is infested with monsters called mals which the students must battle against to survive. But their source of magic is not limitless and they have to build up “mana” and store it as their power source (unless you’re part of an enclave but I’ll get into that later). For years the mechanism that usually cleanses the school has been broken so each year the mal situation gets worse and worse with more and more mals lurking in all the corners. It sounds like a school straight out of my nightmares.
There’s so much more to the story than it first seems. I loved the diversity of the characters, as a start. Novik has done a wonderful job of making an international school genuinely appear international. In the “real” world (within the book) there are magical groups called enclaves. This is where people band together to form stronger protection for themselves against mals (the enclaves are basically popular groups of entitled people who have a bunch of privileges).
These enclaves are EVERYWHERE and there are regular references to different enclaves which I found a nice reminder that there is a world outside the country the book is set in. There are many enclaves featured, such as New York, Dubai, London, Sydney and Delhi (as a start). If you’re part of an enclave you also get to share in a MASSIVE pool of mana. So life is much easier for you.
Seeing as the plot is set entirely within the Scholomance itself (which is completely locked off from the rest of the world) I thought the enclaves was a nice way to bring the outside world into the story, contextualise the characters and leave room to expand the story going forward.
We have such a fun spread of characters in this. I loved the sheer volume of sass that comes from El and found her hilariously relatable. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that features such an unlikeable yet loveable main character in whom I could see parts of myself. Is that possibly the most conflicting sentence I’ve ever written? Look, probably yes.
But the characters that surround El and slowly gravitate closer to the centre of the story are also fun. Orion is the other character featured heavily. He’s the school hero who is always saving people from dreadful facts concerning mals. The idea is that many people don’t even make it to graduation as these mals might be hiding in the scrambled eggs at breakfast ready to eat you alive, or lurking in the shadows of a toolbox. Orion has saved so many people since he’s been at the school that he’s caused his own unique problem: too many people are living and so the mals are getting hungry.
The friendship (if you could even call it that) between El and Orion is just hilarious. She is so reluctant to speak to anyone EVER and when Orion starts trailing around after her like a lost puppy her patience is really put to the test.
Why You Need to Read It
This is a fun book, guys!! The magic system feels so real and I love the ideas Novik plays at with how belief in a thing makes it real. If a student *believes* a staircase will be there, theoretically, it will. It’s a bunch of mind games with a great number of characters who all bring something different to the table. I love that the kids are independent and have to trade goods in order to acquire things. It’s a real balance between survival and popularity.
I loved this (if you couldn’t tell). I took my time reading it and savoured every moment. I can’t wait for the next book in the series to find out what happens next because this ends on such a cliff hanger. I just don’t have a single thing I want to pick apart from this story: solid, gruesome entertainment awaits ye in these pages.
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