I don’t have a good idea how people behave with their friends normally, because I’d never had one before, but on the bright side, Orion hadn’t either, so he didn’t know any more than I did.
Honestly? I was predisposed to love this book. A magic school that’s out to kill students? A dark witch as a main character with untapped powers of death and destruction? Rivals to awkward not-quite-dating? It has all the things I’d pile into my dream book, written by one of my favourite authors and to top it all off the main character shares my name! This book was made for me.
Rating: 5 stars!
Huge thanks to Del Rey for the eARC of this book. It hasn’t affected my honest review.
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.
What did I think?
I think that this book is definitely going to be a love it or hate it kind of book. I absolutely adored it but I think for some people the narrative style just isn’t going to work. It is unusual, but I found myself totally drawn into it and I can’t wait for the rest of the series, not just because I need to know what happens next but because I kind of miss El’s perspective already. To me the narrative feels a lot like a stream of consciousness – or like the haphazard way that I tell stories. It feels very personal, like El is talking to you as the reader, and as she’s relaying what’s happening she will slide into stories about her past that relate to what’s happening. It means the worldbuilding is a little heavy at the start, but I think it works with the idea that El is telling you about her life and I think Naomi Novik did a really good job of making sure that the story never wandered so far off that I lost track of what was happening before.
The narrative style also worked really well for me because I absolutely adored El. I kept joking before I got the review copy that with her sharing my name and having destructive magic, I was guaranteed to love El. Well. I was right. By the end of A Deadly Education I felt like I was friends with El and hitting the last page of the book pained me. She wasn’t what I was expecting from seeing the book marketed as ‘girl with destructive magic at terrifying murder school’ but I actually liked her better than I thought. El could commit atrocities. She could easily walk out of the school without a scratch, and all it would cost her is a little murder. It would be easy for her. But she doesn’t want to do that. Instead she makes her like three times harder to do things right. It’s almost aspirational, even if I did desperately want to see her do something hugely destructive (I like powerful women, okay).
This book was tropey as hell in SUCH a good way. Fake dating. Accidentally dating. Chosen One. And the school itself is just about the coolest (scariest) idea I could imagine. It’s a school for magical students where the students are trapped until they graduate, and the only way to leave is to walk through the graduation hall. Which just happens to be full of monsters that want to kill students. So ‘learning’ at the school isn’t exactly a structured curriculum, but a concentrated effort to learn enough to get out alive, or to be useful enough that someone else gets you out alive. Add in that the school is sentient and exists in the void and it might just be the school from hell. I can’t wait for the next book, because the end of A Deadly Education had me literally gasping out loud.
The only thing that seemed a little off to me was that the main character is biracial (Welsh-Indian) but while it was mentioned once or twice, it didn’t feel like it really showed in the text at any point? I’m white, so it’s not something that I can really comment on, but I hope ownvoices Indian and Indian-British/Welsh reviewers are getting to read this because I’d love to read their take on the character. It didn’t feel like bad representation to me, but equally, it didn’t feel like her Indian heritage was really represented at all so I hope it wasn’t just put in for diversity’s sake.
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