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

This book is yet another one of those books that you’re starting to see everywhere. It’s on every “Best Fall Release” list, it’s being hyped up on Instagram, and the only way you probably haven’t heard of this book is if you live under a rock. Does that sound a little overhyped to you? Because it does to me. I don’t think that A Deadly Education was bad, but I also don’t personally believe that it’s the “best” anything. There’s a lot of promise and potential, but is it a must read? Is it that type of story to change your life? Will it go on to inspire eons of generations? Eh, probably not.

I hope you’re all ready for a point form style of review because I have some POINTS to make.

  • I think what’s most interesting about this book is the Scholomance itself, which is more or less the school that these kids with magic go to learn. But what I believe is that rather than your traditional setting, this school is more of a character and is really personified throughout the book and I’d actually argue it’s the main character, not El. It has moods and feelings and because in this school there are no teachers or instructors of any kind, just the magic of the school, it’s the one that’s really showing the students how to understand, learn, and control their magic. I wouldn’t argue that there’s world building in the book, mostly because it’s essentially magical realism, but because any building revolves around the school and really establishing it’s ins and outs, it really comes off as being its own character.
  • El is a relatively ok protagonist, definitely not the worst I’ve read, and at the moment she doesn’t appear to be The Great Chosen One which is a nice change. I think she does have a relatable quality to her, since she’s been excluded and more or less on her own throughout her childhood and carried that into her teen years. She represents those of us who were never picked for anything, who were never included in fun activities or really welcomed into friendships. And though that makes her tough and surely, adopting an “I don’t need anyone to help me get what I want” type of attitude, she never seems to let that attitude compromise the type of wizard (witch? sorcerer? sorceress?) she wants to be. A lot of people expect El to be cheating to get ahead, or they expect her to die at any minute, and she constantly has to work hard to prove that she’s not cheating and she’ll walk out at graduation rather than succumb to the mals. She might have her back against the wall, be incredibly untrusting, and not wholly understand what it is about her that people simply don’t like, but she’ll never compromise her integrity to get ahead and I personally admire that. She has ambition but she does it in the right and fair way to really prove her power.
  • While I’m definitely a proud member of Team This Should’ve Been Written In Third Person, I don’t really mind that this was written in first person because it didn’t have the traditional fantasy feel to it and lent more into realism. However, my problem is with the way the first person narrative was structured and how it came off. Typically, to me, a first person narrative means that I’m literally inside the character’s head and am privy to their every thought and feeling; I understand the story through their eyes and am experiencing it as if I am actually them. But with El’s first person, it felt like she was talking specifically to me and I don’t know if I liked that. It messed up a lot of the tenses because she was telling the story in past but every now and then she’d say something in the present and I couldn’t really understand what was going on. It was jarring, to say the least. And while I find entertainment in books that do break the fourth wall (i.e. Emma Chase’s Tangled) I don’t think this was the right story to do it with; I also don’t think the fourth wall was particularly broken until near the end of the book, but even then I didn’t get its purpose. So it’s a narrative that worked but also felt weird and uncomfortable and I’m very confused.
  • It appears that there are many synopses for this book and I believe the reason why that happened is because no one actually knows what the plot of this book is supposed to be. I’ve finished it and I still cannot tell you what the concrete plot is. The story follows El in the last few weeks of her junior year in the Scholomance trying to collect as much mana (which I’m guessing is magical energy) as she can before starting her senior year, to which she’ll have to try not to get killed on her graduation day. There’s also a boy named Orion Lake who thinks himself a hero saving the rest of the school from the everyday mals that pop up. That’s more or less all that happens. El learns something in school, Orion kills a mal, she gets irritated and he still follows her around like a puppy with a crush, rinse and repeat. And rather than trying to write and further a plot, Naomi Novik spends what feels like half the book simply info dumping about the school, which is why I feel like it’s a character all on its own. And though I can commend her for understanding this magic school and really fleshing it out, it doesn’t really do much for the plot. Anytime we do get some semblance of plot, like how near the end there’s a hole in the wall by the graduation hall which lets mals come through and it needs to be fixed, it never feels like there are actual stakes in it, either. It’s like “hey, here’s a thing that happened and here’s how it got fixed” basically. I think thematically this book has a lot of interesting things to say and is quite strong, but a weak and borderline nonexistent plot don’t really make it worth it.
  • I don’t know why Novik’s editor thought this was a book for adults but I’m pretty sure they were on drugs. Not once did this feel like Adult literature, other than the fact that this is a mediocre book with nothing quite going on, regardless of what it’s telling you. But I truly cannot picture someone in their 30s coming across this book and saying “this sounds like it’s for me” because it’s not. Hell, it’s not even for my 26 year old self. Could this have been a New Adult book? Maybe, but I still think it should’ve been YA. Unless Adult literature is all about baseline plots and one dimensional characters then yes, that’s the demographic this book is for. But I really do think if Novik was told this was a book for Young/New Adults she would’ve had a better grasp of her characters and really explored their dimensions. I think the mistaken demographic hurt this book more than it helped, not allowing Novik to really develop the characters and the story, and her editor made a big mistake.
  • There’s what’s essentially a breadcrumb of a romance and that’s not what I signed up for. No romance? How boring. Where was your almighty editor for that, Novik? Huh?

I think the main problem with this book is that it felt like it got published far too prematurely. I kept finding countless editing mistakes and based on all I said, I think it still needed another round of edits. Again, I do think that this story has promise but at this point in time it still feels like an idea rather than a finished sentence. I don’t recommend dropping everything you’re doing to go out and pick this up and even if you do want to do that, maybe at least wait until it’s on sale. I don’t think I regret this read, but I don’t feel changed or enlightened because of it. Maybe at the end of the day Novik’s just not the right author for this book but we’ll never know. If this ends up being simply a duology I’ll probably go out and read the next book but I won’t be able to commit to any books beyond that.

Note: In regards to the controversy revolving around a particular passage in this book, I know that it’s not my place to decide whether or not something is offensive or racist but instead it’s my job to listen and understand why it hurts others. Now knowing the context, I don’t think that Novik meant any harm or malice, as it appears to be something out of clear ignorance, and her intention might have been to express how culturally diverse the school is and the mals as well. But it didn’t add anything to the story; it really didn’t. The book would’ve been exactly the same without that passage and I think that’s really what the issue should be, especially knowing Novik went back after edits to add that passage, apparently. It was definitely an ignorant mistake but I don’t believe there was any harmful intent behind it. But it was still wrong; however, to see Novik acknowledge and apologize is better than I’ve seen any other author do when they mess up or face criticism so I’ll give her that.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
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Hardcover, 336 pages
Published September 29th 2020 by Del Rey Books

Book Synopsis

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.

Goodreads | Indigo | Amazon

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