A Deadly Education
Author: Naomi Novik
Series: The Scholomance, #1
Length: 11 hours
Narrator: Anisha Dadia
Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio
Original Publication Date: 2020
Genre(s): Young adult, Fantasy, Dark academia
Galadriel, who goes by El, is a junior in the Scholomance, which is both a school and a sort of safe house. Those who are born with magic are the prime targets of mana-munching monsters as they go through puberty. So they enroll in the Scholomance to increase their chances of survival. But the Scholomance isn’t entirely safe, as maleficers, or mals (the aforementioned monsters), are constantly trying to squeeze through the cracks. El has somehow managed to survive almost three years in the Scholomance, even as an outsider who is barely tolerated by the other students. El is far more powerful than anyone knows, and she’s been trying to keep it a secret until graduation. Or possibly to use it as a way of attracting the enclave kids. But then Orion Lake enters her life by repeatedly saving it, drawing her into the enclave crowd anyway, which turns out to be more annoying and infuriating that she’d imagined. And then things really start to go wrong.
I have a love-hate relationship with this book and it started immediately. A Deadly Education is told in first-person POV from El’s perspective. There’s not much of a synopsis of the book on Goodreads, and you’ll quickly realize that’s because it’s almost impossible to summarize the plot in a paragraph. There is so much going on in this book. Though I loved the premise (or what I could gather from the brief and vague synopsis), the beginning of the book put me off. I almost DNFed. The book starts with a huge and unnecessary info dump about El and the world and the Scholomance and Orion and anything else you can think of. It’s all told instead of shown. And it was not my favorite way to begin a story.
The world is a bit hard to get a grasp on for a while, and so is the school itself. Basically, during their formative years, anyone with mana (magic) inside of them is at risk of being killed while out in the world without protection. Malificers can sniff them out and will eat them. So the lucky kids—who can afford to—go to the Scholomance, where they not only are a bit safer, but they have the opportunity to learn spells, choose a discipline, and try to form alliances that will get them out of the Scholomance during graduation and into an enclave out in the real world. If they even survive graduation. See, it’s not like marching across a stage and getting a diploma. Instead, they have to escape the Scholomance, which is no easy feat when you’re being chased by aaaaaaaall the malificiers that have gathered in the graduation hall and have been starving for a year. So if you get into the Scholomance and if you survive all four years and if you make it out alive through graduation, you then have to somehow survive on your own or get into an enclave. Honestly, I’ve never wanted to be not magic before until reading this book. If you’re magical in this world, you’re as good as dead if you don’t come from a wealthy enclave. I think I’d rather be a mundane, thanks.
Okay, so that’s the gist of the world and the school. It’s super interesting and cool and dark, but it takes the entire book to really get a handle on it all and understand it. I know reading is the journey and discovering all of this throughout the book is the point, but I’d much rather have had a cheat sheet in the beginning. Maybe it’s because I listened to the book instead of being able to read it with my eyes and flip back and forth, or maybe it’s because the worldbuilding wasn’t flushed out in the most understandable way through the writing. Regardless, it’s a lot.
Not only is there a huge info dump at the beginning of the book, but probably my biggest complaint is that it continues throughout the book in really odd places. The book is narrated by El. We’re in her head the entire time, so we only experience things as she does. At one point, she even breaks the fourth wall. Her narration is very monologue-y. Much of the book is less of what’s happening and more her thoughts and feelings on things. Yet, I couldn’t really get a feel for El for a long time. I couldn’t tell if I liked her or hated her, if I sympathized with her or even cared about her at all. It was very hard to gain an emotional connection to her. All of that was fine, for the most part—except during the action scenes. This is a dark world with a lot of blood and guts and death. Mals are attacking these poor kids around every corner. So there are lots of fight scenes and suspenseful moments. Some of them are done well – they’re quick and describe the action in all its bloody detail. But other action scenes are done poorly. El will just break off from the moment and start inner-monologuing about the history of a mal or a past experience she had or something random, and it’ll totally take away from the moment. Like, we’re just stuck, waiting for the thing to happen while El’s lost in her head. It’s not suspenseful, it’s honestly annoying. So, I’d say that’s my biggest complaint, other than the muddled worldbuilding.
This book is so hard to talk about, so I hope you don’t think I hate this book based on my complaints. It just takes a while to explain them. I really did enjoy this book more than I thought I would once I actually got a handle on what was going on. Especially once Orion becomes a bigger character in El’s life. This is absolutely a frienemies story, and I’ll leave you to find out if it becomes enemies to lovers (because that’s ALL I WAS WAITING FOR). Like most people, I loved their interactions with each other. And I also loved seeing El forced out of her shell and made to interact with other people. I definitely started to like El about halfway through, and it was interesting to see where everything led.
I know people keep talking about the last line of the book and how it’s all worth it to get there — and it is. But I totally called it. Somewhere along the way I definitely could guess the twist, and I’m absolutely excited to see where the sequel takes us. I’m hoping now that the world is established, we’ll get fewer info dumps and more interactions between the characters and more action. If you like dark academia and dark fantasy, I definitely recommend this book. Just try to get through those info dumps… It’s worth it.