I went into A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik completely unsure of what I was in for, but somewhat expecting to not like it.
I admit it.
Let’s just get it out there.
I’m a book snob.
And I absolutely DO judge a book by it’s cover. And none of Naomi Novik’s book covers have ever spoken to me.
So, yeah, I wasn’t expecting much, but I started reading A Deadly Education for our YA Fantasy Addicts book club.
Ohhhhhh man! Wow! What a ride. After I finish this series, I’m diving head first into the rest of Novik’s books, and she is well on her way to becoming an auto-buy author for me.
So as they say you absolutely “can’t judge a book by it’s cover,” because if I had, I’d have majorly missed out on possibly the best series I’ve read all year.
Let’s jump into the review.
A Deadly Education Review
A Deadly Education is an easy read, but it’s hard to read. It’s a short read, but it’s a long read.
On one hand, you have our heroine, Galadriel, who is so likable (to the reader, everyone in the book hates her) and has such a great voice that you can’t help but turn pages.
But then you deal with her constant ramblings. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just makes stringing thoughts together difficult. El starts one train of thought and goes on a three page rabbit trail to immediately jump back into her original thought process.
So it’s easy to read, but it can take some work at times.
And then of course you’re so engrossed in what’s going on in the story, that the pages literally fly by, but there’s only 13 chapters, and each one takes 45-60 minutes each to get through.
Which may not be a problem for those of you capable of stopping midway through a chapter, but some of us are obsessive about our reading sessions, and finding time for a 60 minute continuous session can be challenging at times.
But absolutely none of that matters because Naomi Novik is a frickin’ genius and I’ll devour it all for more of El and the Scholomance.
We’re immediately dropped into the world of Galadriel and the Scholomance with little info-dumping (Hallelujah!), but that also means you’ve got to learn fast or the mals will get you like they do more than 75% of the students at the Scholomance.
This book is touted as a darker Harry Potter, and I can see it.
The world is divided into wizards and mundanes (read: Muggles). Because magic can’t exist around the mundanes (thanks to their disbelief), all the terrible creatures that need magic to survive try to eat wizards as their food. But a fully grown wizard is too much work, so they go after children.
To protect them, wizards built a school, the Scholomance, where they can train in relative safety from the outside world. But mals (these creatures) still manage to get inside through all the wards and protections in place and a large chunk of the children end up dying anyway.
That is until wizard prodigy Orion Lake went to the Scholomance and started killing everything and saving everyone, which everyone is happy to have him keep doing. Everyone except Galadriel.
El is a nobody, and if she’s ever going to prove her immense, world-shaking power to the mighty enclaves and ensure herself a spot of safety after graduation, she needs to actually be able to show off that power.
Something she struggles to do every time Orion Lake swoops in and saves the day, making her out as a damsel in distress instead.
What I Loved
Despite my gripings earlier, I breezed through A Deadly Education and would gladly do it again if I could purge my brain of the details of this story simply for the sake of experiencing it all over.
In that regard, A Deadly Education and Harry Potter share something in common. Aside from that, the wizard aspect, the school aspect, and the Muggle aspect, A Deadly Education is really it’s own thing and I absolutely love it for that.
Instead of reading a book from the perspective of Harry, we instead see it from the viewpoint of a female Voldemort who is in every way Orion Lake’s equal.
But instead of guarding and protecting, El’s magical affinity is for death and destruction in catastrophic, world-ending proportions.
When El was a child, her great grandmother prophesied that she’d be the doom of them all and proceeded to attempt to kill her. Everyone who comes into contact with her immediately hates her, and her negative attitude doesn’t help win them over either.
And while she’s perfectly rude to everyone around her, she’s quite endearing to the reader.
I loved reading this story about a budding antagonist who walks the line of turning into Voldemort at any moment.
I read a few reviews, and saw a whole thread on Reddit about how people complain about racism in the book. But I didn’t see any.
I guess there was a line about having dreadlocks being a bad idea because it makes it easier for the mals to get you, and that set a lot of people off.
Long hair of any kind is discouraged for the same reason. I didn’t take it as a racist comment myself. In fact, race didn’t even enter my mind. I don’t even recall the line that’s how much it didn’t stand out to me.
Either way, I actually thought Novik did a fantastic job with the social/political commentary on privilege within the book as she highlights the divide between kids from backgrounds who had everything (read as Pure Bloods from wizarding families like Draco Malfoy) and those who have nothing (read as Mud Bloods who came from Muggle families like Hermione Granger).
The enclave kids, like Orion, come into the Scholomance with decades of knowledge, supplies, and alliances, to help them survive. While outcast kids like El have nothing and are almost guaranteed to die alone at graduation.
The way that Novik uses El and Orion throughout the story to teach, not only the characters but the reader as well, about this injustice in the world is spot on and praiseworthy.
Final Thoughts on A Deadly Education
There’s not much more I can tell you about the book. There isn’t some great mystery or unknown mystery. There isn’t an antagonist at work outside of the deadly mals trying to get them.
A Deadly Education is a fun, straightforward first person POV romp. You learn as El learns, you cry when El cries, you shout victoriously when El does. You experience her life, for good or bad, in the Scholomance.
And while that might not sound super duper exciting, I promise that A Deadly Education and the whole Scholomance series will be one of the best books you read this year. It certainly is one of mine right up there with House of Sky and Breath.
A Deadly Education is an easy 5 out of 5 stars for me.