Published by Del Rey on September 29th 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
In the start of an all-new series, the bestselling author of Uprooted and Spinning Silver introduces you to a dangerous school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death – until one girl begins to rewrite its rules.
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 you’re inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school’s many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions – 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.
Wry, witty, endlessly inventive, and mordantly funny – yet with a true depth and fierce justice at its heart – this enchanting novel reminds us that there are far more important things than mere survival.
I know that Naomi Novik is one of those fantasy authors with a massive cult following, and that people absolutely rave about her books, but the ones I see most frequently on bookstagram and around the blogosphere are Uprooted and Spinning Silver, neither of which I’ve read yet. I have read, and enjoyed, the first Temeraire book, but I wasn’t spectacularly wowed by it, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect with A Deadly Education – would it live up to all the hype? Would I feel similarly about it as I did to His Majesty’s Dragon? I think in short, the answer to both of these is no. A Deadly Education is nothing like His Majesty’s Dragon, which I’d shelve alongside things like Dragon Master (Chris Bunch), any of the Dragonriders of Pern (Anne McCaffrey) or maybe Northern Lights (Philip Pullman) and Leviathan (Scott Westerfeld). A Deadly Education, in comparison, I would shelve with The Novice (Taran Matharu), Throne of Glass (Sarah J. Maas), Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan) or Poison Study (Maria V. Snyder). That’s not to say that either are bad books, they’re just very different – where His Majesty’s Dragon felt like an adult steampunk-esque fantasy, A Deadly Education had a much more YA feel, along with some of the tropes you might expect to find there.
El is a half-Indian, half-Welsh, anti-social girl who is studying at The Scholomance, a school for wizards which quite takes the phrase ‘high school is hell’ quite literally. Teenage wizards, it turns out, are basically demon magnets, and the school is designed to put the teenagers in one place, so that the maleficaria (the demons) are all drawn to one place, where they can hopefully be regularly killed. Students at the Scholomance go in, and aside from the occasional letter home assuming they can bribe someone to send one, are never seen or heard from again, until they graduate…if they graduate. Whilst there, students spend their entire school careers building up to and preparing for Graduation, a kind of big-boss-fight showdown where the students face off against the maleficaria living in the school, and either defeat them and escape, or die trying. On top of learning every spell they can, preparing means building up supplies of mana and forming alliances with students who are likely to be useful both in graduation itself, and afterwards, because even adult wizards are better off as part of a group than living alone, so getting an in with an enclave is something basically everyone hopes for.
The plot for A Deadly Education is great, and I loved some of the characters; Aadhya and Lu quickly made an impression, and while I found the relationship ups and downs between El and Orion predictable, I did like the way they contrasted and complemented each other at the same time. The world-building is clever, and I’m really intrigued by it – I love the fact that spells students can learn are limited based on the languages they know, and the fact the school is sometimes helpful and sometimes unhelpful gives it an almost Hogwarts-meets-Jumani feel, where you’re never quite sure which side it’s on or what to expect. I loved that the school isn’t all white, English-speaking, rich students, and Novik has clearly made an effort to make the cast of characters more diverse. On the other hand, the complexity that’s gone into the worldbuilding makes for a slow pace, particularly at the beginning; there’s a lot of infodumping and internal monologue which made it hard for me to really get into, as evidenced by the fact it took me 12 days to read the first half despite only being around 350 pages long, and then I flew through the last half in a day. It also just feels a little strange in terms of target audience, because it’s being marketed as adult fantasy, which fits in terms of how dark some of the events are, but the age of the characters, and particularly their approach to relationships, feels very young, and more YA. I’d say if you’re a YA fan normally, or you’re looking for a crossover title, this is perfect, but for an adult fantasy fan who thinks they’re ‘too old’ for YA (we all know one!), this probably wouldn’t work.
Buy it? This is one I’d pick up on a deal.
In a nutshell: Slow to get into, but lots of fun at the end. Reminds me of a kind of Percy Jackson meets Buffy; not what I expected, but I’m definitely going to be getting the second book.