My Haunted Library

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Review: A Deadly Education

Forget noxious jellybeans and blunt-force Bludgers: at the Scholomance school for wizards, legions of horrifying mals eagerly consume inattentive students. Good luck making it to graduation—or through graduation.

A Deadly Education—Naomi Novik, 2020. Rating:  5/5

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Vigilance, smarts, and force of will (i.e., extreme crabbiness), have propelled Galadriel into her third year at this hazardous school for wizards. “El” also happens to be one of the deadliest students enrolled, but she keeps this on the down low. Being a prophesied destroyer of worlds has drawbacks.

El is the product of two former Scholomance students. Her hippie-like good witch British mum is a powerful healer. Her Indian dad died during his graduation exercises—like scores of other potential grads. El is on her own. She is not part of a powerful Enclave that provides spell-powering mana to its members and ensures security after graduation. El’s chances of surviving the Scholomance, and after, depend only on her. And that’s the way she wants it. El is irritable, unfriendly, standoffish, rude, and generally unpleasant…and hard-working and deep, deep down, good-hearted. She’s also lonely. When Orion Lake, the junior class hero, annoyingly saves her life, El resentfully becomes his frenemy, and maybe even his bona fide friend. The two join forces in a desperate attempt to restore balance to the Scholomance and keep an inordinate number of seniors from being munched at graduation.

A Deadly Education is a flat-out fantastic read. The Scholomance, like the magic in its world, is fluid and enigmatic. It is a combination of gears, oil, and a black void held together only by the common acceptance of its blueprints. The characters are the same way: Mad magical ability meets all too human emotions like loneliness, frustration, jealousy, and friendship. You hate El, empathize with El, and love El all for different reasons. Her experiences—traumatic, triumphant, mortifying—take her on a journey of self-discovery. As she cautiously interacts with others, she learns the value of connection, and starts to emerge from her self-imposed isolation.

Plot: darkly delightful. Characters: compelling and convincing. Magic: wickedly, utterly fun. El is “strict mana” and will not harm anything to gain power for her magic. Other students don’t have that compunction, which makes for a…tense learning environment. And the monsters! The sheer variety of mal great and small, sometimes whimsical, always deadly, that populates the Scholomance is fiendishly satisfying to us dark fantasy and horror nuts. Woe to the poor student who fatally discovers that their chair in shop class is not a chair… 

A brilliant, brilliant novel. A shoo-in for my Best of 2022 List.