A Deadly Education – Naomi Novik

“I decided that Orion needed to die after the second time he saved my life.”

In a world where magic is real, the downside is the existence of maleficaria (mals): nasty, dangerous creatures that feed on wizards and their mana, or power. Children, coming into their powers, are prime targets, and so a few hundred years ago the wizarding community came up with the idea of the Scholomance: a safe haven for the young, a place of learning and okay, a few downsides. Like being trapped there for four years, before having to run the gauntlet through a hungry pack of mals that have realised where the buffet is. That is, if you’ve survived all of the attacks, and lessons that don’t care about your safety, and all of your fellow students who will gladly stick a knife in your back to save themselves… as the tagline says, “Learning has never been this deadly.”

We are guided through the story by El, a third year student and outcast, trying her hardest to survive. Or rather, trying her hardest to survive without killing off the entire school, because she’s more than capable of doing that – in fact, she has to try hard not to. As is so often the case in these books, El has had a prophecy on her head since childhood, that points to her wiping out enclaves and millions of lives. But, she’s not listening to that!

I’d read mixed reviews of A Deadly Education, so I was a little concerned going in, but wow did I end up loving this! I think the main drawback is that it’s quite talky, all El’s point of view and narration, and so there can feel like a little bit of exposition over action. However, I still thoroughly enjoyed the story and the telling, and after a chapter it really didn’t stop me getting entirely caught up in it all.

And don’t let that make it seem like there’s no action! The mals attack in various horrible ways, and the threat levels are done really well throughout.

For me this hit a perfect spot of relatable character – El’s not the nicest, but her cynical, blackest of humour and general hatred for humankind and mals alike struck a chord 😉 – and worldbuilding that I just loved. The Scholomance is awful, but you can see how they got there. Plus we have the joy of the ‘mean girls’ (and boys) getting a bit of karma, and that always appeals to me.

There will undoubtedly be comparisons made to Harry Potter, but believe me: we are very not in Hogwarts any more! The ‘kids’ are all teenagers and don’t come across too young and/or irritating, nor are there teachers to infantize them. Lessons are self-study, and the hints are all tantalisingly ‘cool’ rather than hitting you in the ‘leviosaaaah’ or whatever. But most of all the world-building of this dark, deadly, thoroughly dismal place that still makes you – just a little bit – want to go and study there.

Recommended from me, although from reviews it does seem to have not been everyone’s cuppa. I’m halfway through the sequel already and be glad that’s out soon as there is just a little bit of a tease at the end of book one 😉

Kindle: 337 pages / 13 chapters
First published: 2020
Series: Scholomance book 1, with book 2 due this month (Sept 2021) and a third… next year?
Read from 21st-25th August 2021

My rating: 9/10

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