The Last Graduate – Naomi Novik

“Keep far away from Orion Lake.”

Welcome back to the Scholomance, the school that makes Hogwarts look like day care and the most brutal prison seem palatable in comparison. Four years without real daylight, proper food, or any supplies you didn’t bring with you at the start. Sure, there are no teachers, but the classes might just try to kill you and if they don’t, your classmates probably will.

Usual warning: just mentioning characters who appear in book 2 could be considered spoilers for the previous volume, so venture forth at your own peril.

Book 1, A Deadly Educationintroduced us to El, a third year and loner who just happens to also be capable of spells that would destroy the world – if she wanted to, which thankfully she doesn’t. Usually. After the events of the first instalment, however, her powers are no longer quite the secret that they were – and it seems that even the school itself has decided to take notice and, y’know, maybe just try to kill her off.

It’s so, so difficult to have characters with enormous power – how do you introduce peril and tension, if the lead is capable of levelling cities? So while at first I had a few doubts about this continuation of the story, now that El is all ‘potential Dark Sorceress Supreme’, I was thoroughly impressed with the way the author handles it all. In fact, rather than a possible downside, the way this turns all that huge power into yet more obstacles is just – well, ‘chef’s kiss’, as the youth say 😉

The Last Graduate takes an already great story and situation, fantastic world building, and uses it all against itself to create a wholly new layer of story. I’m so used to second books just picking up where things left off and maybe reworking things a bit, I cannot tell you how much better than that this is – it’s just… SO MUCH BETTER! The story just grows so organically, a bit unexpectedly, and wow, yes please!

We’d left El on something of a minor cliffhanger in book 1, so I was delighted to be able to dive straight into the sequel – but paid for my smugness with an even bigger cliffhanger at the end of this one, so be warned. We’ll all have to wait until next year for the finale – but to be honest, I’m delighted for the excuse to reread the first two ahead of it 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 368 pages / 14 chapters
First published: 28th September 2021
Series: Scholomance book 2
Read from 1st-5th September 2021

My rating: 10/10

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