Goodreads: A Deadly Education
Series: The Scholomance #1
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.
Dark academia isn’t necessarily my genre, but I loved Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Spinning Silver, so I had to pick up A Deadly Education. And while the school in the book is full of monsters, and characters need to spend their days on guard lest they die in the middle of their studies, the effect is lightened by the wit of protagonist El and by her fellow student Orion Lake, who is full of good humor and unusual luck.
As I began reading A Deadly Education, I had to admit to myself that it felt like an extended info dump. El has to explain everything to the readers: her backstory, what she did the previous years in school, how the school works, how the world in general works, how the monsters work. Everything. I found it interesting, so I read on, but I can imagine it being a deal breaker for readers who aren’t huge fantasy fans and don’t want to deal with extensive world building.
El herself is a bit of a challenge, but that’s her beauty. She doesn’t have a lot of friends at the school, and the reader can see why, but as she’s in her junior year she begins to recognize how big of a problem this is for her: she needs to make an alliance if she’s going to survive graduation next year, but she hasn’t put in the work to make anyone want to be her ally. Her big plan is to do something impressive, rather than to be approachable, and convince people she has strong magic they’ll want on their side, but she ends up being more approachable as the book goes on anyway, which will at least win readers over.
The book, once one gets over the info dumps, is fairly fast-paced, and there always seems to be something happening. After all, the school seems intent on killing El, so she has challenges she has to deal with frequently. El is wary and clever and powerful, and there’s so much of her magic that remains to be explored that I hope to see tackled in the next book. It’s also fun to see the other characters’ strengths and how they can use them to work together to beat the monsters, if only they stop being so suspicious of each other.
This is a wildly original and imaginative story, and I’m definitely excited to read book 2. However, readers who thought Novik’s other books were “too slow” probably won’t be better pleased by A Deadly Education.