A Deadly Education
by Naomi Novik
I instantly pre-bought book two of this series just as soon as I finished A Deadly Education. It was that good. I mean, I already had Naomi Novik on pretty much insta-buy after Spinning Silver (although I tried the first of the Temerairie books and it just didn’t catch on with me), but this, this YA book about what it means to be evil and what it means to be good dressed up in a school for magic users constantly at risk of attack by monsters large and small was the icing on the cake.
And it wasn’t like the POV character, Galadriel (yes, from THAT hobbit book, just one of the small easter eggs of fandom in this book) was easy to like. She’s abrasive, and self-sabotaging, and at the start of the book lets pride get in her way so much that she doesn’t even realize she’s made friends until its shoved in her face. But she was very, very compelling. Possibly a bit too knowledgeable/mature for her age, but her struggle with not giving into the evil/easy side of her magic mostly due to the influence of growing up with a more-or-less saint of mother, gave me echoes of the kind of deep emotional resonance I loved about Nina Kiriki Hoffman books, and definitely on a higher emotional par than I would give to other similar “young magic user growing up in a hostile magic school” (including Kristoff’s Nevernight that has a similar theme) books.
Galadriel is a Junior in a magical high school cut off from the world. She takes classes and learns spells and desperately tries to avoid the attacks of mals (evil monsters that want to eat her for her mana, or magical reserves). The problem is, she is a knife’s edge away constantly from being tempted to use really massive awful spells to protect herself that would draw on the life force of the students around her, and non of the students around her like her or help her in any way. She’s fairly tough. Except that one day, her class white knight, Orion Lake, the most awesome mal-slayer of all, saves her life and then STICKS AROUND.
Despite her crankiness he sticks with her, and slowly, Galadriel comes to acquire others, who stick around. Slowly, but surely, she gains allies, despite antagonizing the most powerful cliques in her grade, just in time for the biggest challenge the Scholomance and Galadriel/Orion will ever face.
While there’s not an extensive or convoluted plot, one feels breathless just from Galadriel going to the bathroom because of the extensive precautions, threats from mals, and slow development of friendship that occurs in every scene. There’s alot of backstory and thought put into the creation of this school, and I almost wish each of the main group of friends had their own book!
i loved, loved, loved all the references to non-western languages and the importance of non-western cultural/ethnic groups in this that seemed a truer reflection of the real world in terms of population numbers. And….there’s a bit of controversy over Novik’s reference to dreadlocks. Its something I knew about before I started reading, and when I got to that part I had a simultaneous reactions of “unfortunate she chose that hair style to develop when African nations are a bit underrepresented here” as well as “in the context of the entire school and treatment of China and India in the Scholomance it doesn’t stand out as racist or perpetuating stereotypes to me”. So that’s my thoughts. Take them or leave them.
I loved this book’s imaginative monsters, the emotional growth Galadriel goes through, and the topsy turvy portrayal of good vs evil where the banality of accepting unfair terms in the world for your own benefit comes off as evil and the daily resistance to using people for one’s own gain and power comes off as good. Kudos for a nuanced portrayal of the daily grind a big bad sorceroress goes through to not kill everyone around her.
And maybe I’m weird, but I got a huge kick out of the “relationship’ between Orion and Galadriel…and I want to say more about how clueless Galadriel is, but I loved their awkward attempts at being honest with each other. There are some nightmarish creatures, some blood and guts, but I would give this book to even younger YA folks.