Monday, March 29, 2021

A Deadly Education


Image credit: Penguin Books Australia

Right now we are living in such crazy times and it can very hard to find pockets of joy. But believe me, they are still out there. Like the unexpected joy that comes from finding a new author name that cements itself amidst your group of favourites. When I read Uprooted, I was impressed and enjoyed the book, but hadn’t considered Naomi Novik a favourite author. And then, randomly one day while I was in a bookshop, I saw a new one from her and was compelled to get it. Having just closed the cover on it, I can now say that I have experienced that surprising and enjoyable realisation that I have a new favourite author. 

A Deadly Education is the first book in Novik’s planned Scholomance series and introduces readers to the character of Galadriel (El) Higgins, an antisocial loner trying to make her way through magic school. While school is hard for everyone, for the young wizards attending the Scholomance, it’s worse as there are no teachers, no holidays, just a semi-sentient school that’s designed to cull its inhabitants. There are mals and monsters around ever corner, and only the strongest, smartest, or luckiest come out alive. But while El has no friends on her side, she does have the advantage of having a power so intense that she can level mountains and wipe out millions. As she could easily accidentally kill all her fellow students, El tries her hardest to play by the book, avoiding her natural affinity for destruction, and not showing off her power unless she absolutely must.

It’s a little bit like Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games, with the school being the big bad that is out to kill everyone. A great coming-of-age narrative about the social educations of school rather than just the academic, A Deadly Education takes the middle-school magic subgenre and completely flips it on its head. Our protagonist is an anti-heroine whose brash and unfriendly attitudes keep her segregated from any cliques, but brandish her with the courage to point out the social injustices and toxic social attitudes that work within the school and the wider world. Bitter by nature, but certainly not evil (at least actively trying not to be) El is a fresh and intriguing heroine that beautifully dissects the traditional dichotomy of good and evil and reveals it to be much more grey than black and white. 

In fact Novik takes many of the traditional genre tropes and character templates and completely turns them inside out (sometimes literally), making for an engaging and fascinating read experience, as it derails the reading route that the genre comes with pre-mapped. 

Image credit: Goodreads

There is action, drama, and suspense around every corner and Novik’s prose reads with a great sense of nonchalance and a sauntering pace: even the more dramatic moments of characters being basically eaten alive are written in a way that perfectly describes what’s happening without embellishing or creating an adrenalin rush within the reader. The narrative is constantly in a state of excitement flux and cool-down, a perfect balance that makes the reading experience consistent whilst allowing the reader to see the bigger story.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am most certainly intrigued to see what will happen next!

Author: Naomi Novik, 2020

Published: Del Rey, a part of Penguin Random House UK.

Chronicle: A Deadly Education is the first book in Naomi Novik’s Scholomance series.

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