Book Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Title: A Deadly Education (The Scholomance, #1)
Author: Naomi Novik
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Publication date: September 29, 2020
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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 who lurk everywhere.

El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students. 

Unlike Hogwarts, Scholomance is a magical school that no one in their right mind would want to attend. Everything there wants to kill you, it seems. Evil magical creatures, known as maleficaria, lurk everywhere, drooling over the chance to eat some yummy young wizards. Students never go anywhere alone, and even with companions, death is literally around every corner.

Be careful taking food in the cafeteria line — it might be poisonous. Don’t be first or last into a room. Don’t sit near air vents. Try not to shower too often — there’s no telling what might come up through the drain.

And if you actually make it through all four years, there’s still no guarantee of survival. Graduation from Scholomance involves fighting your way out through a mass of deadly maleficaria waiting at the gate, and in typical years, only a fraction survive.

If all this sounds terrifying and exhausting… it is. Given the grisly death waiting around every corner, you might be wondering why this school exists in the first place and why any reasonable parent might send their children there. The answer is that while students’ lives are in danger 24/7 at the school, they’re still slightly more protected there (the school exists in an alternate dimension only barely tethered to the real world) than at home, since apparently young magical people are so packed full of deliciousness that they’d be under constant attack with little protection if they remained with their families.

El, short for Galadriel, seems to have an affinity for power and dark magic, and finds terrible spells of mass destruction at her fingertips all the time. She has to make a conscious effort to avoid doing harm. She’s also prickly and seems to give off an aura of evil, even though she’s not, so she’s pretty friendless, and that leaves her vulnerable.

That changes, though, when school hero Orion Lake saves her life a few times. Suddenly, the wealthy, established kids who belong to enclaves (big, secure settlements of magical people) want to include El in their circles, as a way of getting Orion on their sides. El is more interested in true allies than sucking up to get into an enclave, and she’s also more than a little irritated that everyone assumes Orion keeps saving her because they’re dating. So there’s that.

When I said that Scholomance is exhausting, that applies to the experience of reading it as well. It’s so unrelentingly claustrophic that the reading experience, for me at least, just isn’t fun. I got tired of chapter after chapter showing all the ways the students could die. Scholomance sounds like a terrible place, and there are practically no lighter moments within the book to break up all the looming deadly attacks.

The author does a good job of showing the awfulness of the experience of being there, but I can’t say that I needed to read quite that much about it. I didn’t feel like I got a good sense of what drives El or why she has such an affinity for darkness and destruction. We learn about a prophecy that says she’ll basically destroy the whole world, but I still felt like there was something about her personality that didn’t quite click. Likewise, we get to know some things about El’s eventual circle of friends, including Orion, but I didn’t get a good feel for who they actually are as people.

After publication, the author was called out for racial insensitivity due to a paragraph about the perils of dreadlocks. She’s apologized, and the paragraph will be revised in future printings. I believe her when she says it was unintentional, but it’s hard to understand how a book can go through the editing and publication process and not have something like that caught. (And really, if the same content was included, but with a reference to long hair instead of dreadlocks, it would have gotten the same point across without feeding into racial sterotypes.)

I had to wonder about a particular passage:

I got angry all over again, and I looked at him straight-on and hissed — when I’m really angry, it’s a hiss, even if there’re no actual sibilants involved — “We didn’t.”

Why did that passage catch my eye? Because I’ve been reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, and recently highlighted this bit in my review of The Light Fantastic:

Another voice, dry as tinder, hissed, “You would do well to remember where you are.” It should be impossible to hiss a sentence with no sibilants in it, but the voice made a very good attempt.

Homage? Coincidence? I’m not sure, but it definitely jumped out at me.

Anyway…

While the book felt like a slog for at least the first half (seriously, the constant threat of death is TIRING), I eventually got caught up in the adventure enough to race through to the end.

A Deadly Education is book one of the Scholomance trilogy, with book two, The Last Graduate, due out in July 2021. At this point, I’m on the fence about whether to continue. I mean, probably yes? But I guess I prefer my magical boarding schools with at least an ounce of cheer. Scholomance is dark, dark, dark. I’ll need a good long break before I’d want to revisit it.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 books on my TBR list for fall 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books On My Fall 2020 TBR.

So many books to look forward to! Most are upcoming new releases, but I’m including a couple of books from my shelves too.

(Click on any of the book cover images to see larger versions.)

  • A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
  • Dying With Her Cheer Pants On by Seanan McGuire. A collection of three new stories… and of course I’ll read anything she writes.
  • Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • Serpentine by Philip Pullman: A new novella set in the world of His Dark Materials.
  • The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman: It’s been almost a year since I bought a copy of this book! It’s about time to read it.
  • The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
  • The Children of Red Peak by Craig DiLouie
  • A Stitch in Time by Kelley Armstrong
  • The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher
  • Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett — my next Discworld book

What books are you most excited to read this fall? Please share your TTT link!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Most Anticipated Releases of the Second Half of 2020.

I’m so excited for all of these! Since I just did a summer TBR post a couple of weeks ago that included a bunch of new releases for June through August, today I’m focusing on books coming out in fall to early winter. And the scary thing is, most of these are being released in September. How will I possibly have the time to read them all?

  1. A Killing Frost (October Daye, #14) by Seanan McGuire (release date 9/1/2020)
  2. Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (release date 9/8/2020)
  3. The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry (release date 9/8/2020)
  4. The Trials of Koli (The Book of Koli, #2) by M. R. Carey (release date 9/15/2020)
  5. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (release date 9/15/2020)
  6. Well Played (Well Met, #2) by Jen DeLuca (release date 9/22/2020)
  7. A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik (release date 9/29/2020)
  8. The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher (release date 10/6/2020)
  9. Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker (release date 10/6/2020)
  10. The Once & Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (release date 10/13/2020)

Are you planning to read any of these? What new releases are you especially excited about for the 2nd half of 2019? Please share your links!

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Top Ten Tuesday: A Selection of Favorite Fantasy Books and Series

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books From My Favorite Genre. I bounce between genres quite a bit, but thought I’d focus here on fantasy. My list includes stand-alones as well as series, and because I’m sticking to just 10, I ended up not including three that pretty much go without saying: of course I love the Narnia, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Lord of the Rings books! (See? I managed to mention them after all!)

My top ten, in no particular order:

  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
  • Codex Alera (series) by Jim Butcher
  • The Immortals (series) (standing in for ALL Tortall books) by Tamora Pierce (review)
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik (review)
  • The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (series) by Patricia C. Wrede (review)
  • Wayward Children (series) by Seanan McGuire (review)
  • The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King (review)
  • The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner (review)
  • His Dark Materials (series) by Philip Pullman
  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman

What genre did you pick this week? If you wrote a TTT post this week, please share your link!

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books By My Favorite Authors (that I still haven’t read)

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books By My Favorite Authors That I Still Haven’t Read. Usually, when I love an author, I read everything he or she has written… but there are always some books that fall off the bookpile or get otherwise overlooked. My selection of books by favorite authors that I still need to read :

1. Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell: This is the sequel to Doc, which I truly loved. Mary Doria Russell is a brilliant writer (The Sparrow will always be near and dear to my heart), and I bought Epitaph as soon as it came out. Why haven’t I read it yet? No idea… other than me just being lame.

2. The Sumage Solution by G. L. Carriger: Gail Carriger is an absolute favorite of mine, and I’ve read every bit of her published work… except The Sumage Solution. Maybe it’s because of the contemporary setting, since I love Carriger’s steampunk Parasol-verse so very much… but I haven’t quite brought myself around to starting Sumage. And there’s a sequel on the way, so I’d better get to it.

3. The Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi: I haven’t read a single book by John Scalzi that I haven’t enjoyed… but so far, I’ve only read his stand-alone books. I keep swearing that THIS will finally be the year when I read Old Man’s War… but it just hasn’t happened yet, and we’re getting frighteningly close to the end of 2018.

4. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik: I bought this the day it was released, and I’ve just gotten too overwhelmed by ARCs and library books to ever get around to starting. I loved Uprooted, so I’m really excited to start this one.

5. SO MANY  BOOKS by Stephen King: I always think of myself as a Stephen King fan, but it’s scary to think how many I’ve missed! Just looking at the unread King books on my shelves, I have Duma Key, Lisey’s Story, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, books 4 – 7 of The Dark Tower series, The Green Mile, a few short story collections… ugh, it never ends! I guess on the flip side, I’ll never run out of good options for when I want to be scared silly by a book.

6. Earlier works by Patricia Briggs: I adore the Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega series, and could read those books over and over again (and yes, I’ve gone back for re-reads already). I really should make a point of reading some of her other works too, although I think I’m resistant to leaving those familiar worlds and going more into straight-up fantasy rather than urban fantasy.

7. More Jojo Moyes! I’ve loved so many of her books, and I actually own copies of these… so why haven’t I read them?

8. The Silk and Song trilogy by Dana Stabenow. I adore the Kate Shugak books — the characters, the crime drama, and the amazing Alaska setting. I really admire Stabenow’s writing and I enjoy historical fiction, so this trilogy (about the granddaughter of Marco Polo) should be right up my alley, despite the lack of Alaska! Seriously, the story sounds great — maybe a reading priority for 2019?

9. The Parasitology trilogy by Mira Grant: I loved the Newsflesh books SO much, and love everything she writes under her other (real) name (Seanan McGuire). I did actually read the first book in this trilogy, and thought it was really, really icky but also amazing… so I just need to return to the world of tapeworms and medical experiments gone haywire!

10. Yesternight by Cat Winters: I’ve read everything else by this author, and I think she’s so incredibly talented! I own a copy of Yesternight (I bought it as soon as it came out), and have every intention of reading it… so this is yet another book that I have no good reason for not having read yet, other than the good old “so many books, so little time” excuse.

What books are on your list this week? Please share your TTT link!

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