Thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: September 29th, 2020
Synopsis: Lesson one of the Scholomance.
Learning has never been this deadly.
A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real)—until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate…or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters that lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies but she possesses dark strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to destroy the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.
A Deadly Education is okay. Stop. No it isn’t. It‘s utterly spectacular and probably will not only be my favorite book of 2020, but is now on my top ten list of favorite books of all time! I know. You’re probably rolling your eyes and saying: “Oh C’mon. Not ANOTHER magical boarding school series!” Well let me assure you Scholomance is no Hogwarts or even Brakebills.
Naomi Novik’s planned trilogy takes inspiration from the folkloric Scholomance which was a fabled Transylvanian school of black magic rumored to be run by Satan himself. Novik runs with this fable and creates an epic tale of a school that exists on the edge of a void where students lose their lives on a daily basis from Lovecraftian beasties known as the maleficaria or “mals,” and sometimes each other. Students who are “lucky” enough to make it to graduation wind up going through this horrible ceremony where they’re dumped in the residents hall and have to battle their way through hordes of mals to exit the school.
The two main characters are total opposites of each other, (or are they?) Galadriel or El, is half Indian, half Welsh and has powerful but scarily dark powers that she’s keeping secret from everyone. She’s an outcast, and some of that status she’s purposely cultivated. Orion Lake is the school’s popular resident hero who enthusiastically persists in throwing himself at mals to protect others. Much to El’s annoyance he’s put himself in danger for her on multiple occasions. Chapter 1 begins: I decided that Orion needed to die after the second time he saved my life. Insta-love this is not. What I loved about their developing relationship is how they slowly see that they may have more in common than they originally thought. The secondary characters are likewise wonderfully written, but the standout is Scholomance itself. As a sentient school, it’s really a character as well. A fascinating and sinister one.
I have to be honest and say there’s quite a bit of info dumping in this first book, but to my shock this didn’t bother me at all. I was so captivated by the world building and characters that I kept wanting more.
In the end I believe A Deadly Education is Novik’s best book to date thanks to its imaginative and thrilling upending of a ubiquitous trope. I finished this last night and all I can think of is how am I going to wait for at least a year until the sequel comes out? This is technically a YA novel, but it’s going to have wide crossover appeal with adult fantasy fans. If you are one of these, listen to me: Preorder this from your favorite book retailer or ask your library to buy it ASAP. You won’t be sorry!