Published by: on September 29, 2020
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
My Rating: ★★★
🚨 MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD 🚨
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.
❝A sorceress designed from the ground up for slaughter and destruction might just be able to take out the one monster no one else could kill.❞
A Deadly Education is essentially what would happen if Hogwarts had a Hellmouth. The concept is captivating, except it never feels like there’s a clear plot and most of the book is spent explaining the intricate magic system. The magic system is a standout, it’s so original and well-developed, but there’s almost too much focus on it. By spending so much time on the magic system, the plot finds itself lacking and even though a lot of events occur, they’re all equally unmemorable and there never seems to be a peak in tension. I found it easy to put the book down, which was disappointing as this was my most anticipated read of the year.
❝We’re not all invulnerable heroes.❞
My biggest takeaway from the book is I’m overwhelmingly neutral — I have no strong feelings or attachments to anything that happened. It’s slow and I kept waiting for things to pick up, only they never did. I applaud Novik for creating such a diverse cast of characters and I think it’s a pity they are neglected in favour of chunky, info-dumping paragraphs that didn’t develop the story whatsoever. In terms of the story itself, it isn’t nearly as dark as I anticipated, but I hope that will change as the series progresses. For such a cutthroat school, it is a tame, safe first book. Maybe I set my expectations too high, maybe the trick is to enter with none and you’ll enjoy it more than I did . . .
❝I’d set them all on fire gladly for five minutes of peace, and why shouldn’t I, since they’d all stand by and watch me burn instead.❞
❝I was a burdened soul and would bring death and destruction to all the enclaves in the world if I wasn’t stopped.❞
Galadriel or ‘El’ is introduced as a little bit of an anti-hero — she is shrewd, snarky and survivalist by nature. As amusing as her sarcastic character voice is, I struggled to click with her. Sometimes, the sass and snark is overdone and her insistence on hating absolutely everything is infuriating. Furthermore, instead of fighting the prophecy against her, she seems to succumb to it, which is baffling considering how much fight she has in her otherwise. Her complexity is an asset, but despite all the layers that she clearly has, El came off confusing and contradictory in parts. However, her outlook on life is gripping as is her morally dubious nature. She is very self-assured, which is something I can respect. If anything, I’m eager to see her growth as the series continues because she is closed off, but the ending with her finding genuine friends gave me hope there’s more to her than we see. I can also appreciate that even if I didn’t always like her, I understood her and her reasoning.
❝You’ve been white-knighting as hard as you can for three full years. You’re not going to fix the consequences by white-knighting a little bit harder over the course of a single week.❞
Our hero typecast and love interest is Orion Lake — an annoying name for a character with a lot of potential. He has a Chosen One complex forced upon him by those around him and is rather self-sacrificing, so I can’t wait for him to break away from the role he’s been cast in. At least, that’s what I hope will happen. I found him to be obnoxious and presumptuous a lot of the time when it came to El, but it’s important to account for first person bias, I suppose. It is clear there’s some internal struggle with him and he’s presented as the perfect, cookie-cutter kind of boy that would irritate me if he was the protagonist, but Novik was extremely clever in making the stock main character a secondary character because El’s perception of him isn’t skewed and it shows how even the heroes aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. He opposes El in every way and there’s so much left to explore with him, even if most would assume he’s a cut and dry hero.
MY FAVOURITE MOMENT
❝Someone’s always got to pay, but why should Homicidal Todd get a leg up on anyone else?❞
Whenever El stands up to someone is really entertaining and empowering. It’s El’s character that drives this book and her outspoken nature makes for those most impactful scenes — such as when she calls out Todd and Chloe about how they treat Orion. Scholomance is dark and twisty with a lot of messed up rules, so El challenging the status quo and not being afraid to stand out in a school where friendships and alliances are the difference between life and death is fun to read about. The insight into El’s mind and the nefarious protocols of the academy are beyond fascinating.
❝I want to have a daughter one day, a daughter who will live, who won’t ever have to scream alone in the night when monsters come for her.❞
Another part I enjoyed was El’s vulnerable moments, something I wish we had more of, in fact. Although only mentioned in passing, El’s desire to have kids and for them to be a little better than her is touching and evoked a surprising (if only) bout of emotion in me when reading. It’s seeing the cracks in the character’s hard shell that makes up for the sometimes lethargic pacing of events.
MY LEAST FAVOURITE MOMENT
Whilst I tend to be a romantic, the romance is rushed and forced in this book. It seems to come out of nowhere and that’s why my least favourite moment is Orion’s and El’s first kiss. There’s no chemistry between them and Orion’s interest in El seems superficial. I also didn’t like her reaction — she breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader, which feels awkward and is an unnecessary break in the narrative. On the surface, the two seem like they could be an interesting romance, but not enough time is spent on developing them — Orion assumed they were dating the whole time? That screams communication issues!
Do I recommend A Deadly Education? Well, I don’t think I’d recommend it, but I wouldn’t deter anyone from reading this either. It is clear Novik put a lot of thought into the book and the world of Scholomance, but the execution is lacklustre, prioritising long, boring paragraphs of information and action sequences with no tension most of all. In fact, I’d argue this would make the perfect TV show, alas the story doesn’t jump out enough on page and I slugged through most of the chapters. A part of me feels like this book is one longwinded exposition that establishes Novik’s magical world and nothing more. Since the ending is a partial cliffhanger, I’m open to reading the second book, albeit a little hesitant given how slow everything moved in this book.
Thank you to Random House UK, Cornerstone and NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.
read it and weep,