The Last Graduate
by Naomi Novik
I probably should have taken .5 points off for Novik’s tendence to have El go off on long passages of explaining aspects of the Scholomance instead of just showing up the action (i.e. let me tell you about how no seniors get seminars in the top level of the scholomance far away from their dorms because blah blah blah) but truthfully Novik does this exquisite job of making El’s voice so sympathetic and snarky and world-wise that I didn’t mind. So this gets 5 stars.
In the second book of the Scholomance series, El is now firmly implanted in her friend group that saved the day in the last book, openly flirting (if you can call yelling, eye rolling, and sneering at Orion “flirting”) with the amazing maleficaria-killer Orion, and facing her senior year and the last grand battle of graduation to get out the Scholomance door.
Only the school has something else in mind for her. Not only is her senior schedule weird (why does she have an afternoon seminar in a far away room with all freshmen?) but suddenly she’s a hot commodity, getting offers from enclave-supported students left and right.
I couldn’t help thinking occasionally of Wicked, wherein we get the evolution of a “villain” who just wants to do good. El is also supposed to be a villain, but she was brought up by a mother determined not to let fate stop her from loving, supporting, and challenging El to do the right thing. And so El keeps making choices at each step where she decides to help the freshmen, save the snotty enclave students, and use up her precious mana (magic fuel) instead of solely focusing on her own survival– despite the challenges the school tosses her way.
And don’t even get me started on how Novik uses El’s snark to convey how much Orion and El like each other only through aforementioned shoulder punching, eye rolling, kicking out of rooms, and saving each other from mals. It’s soooo cute and adorable. Orion and El are terrible with people; both of them have only focused on magic and killing mals so far, and the fact that they even acknowledge each other’s presence is a huge step.
The book obviously is setting up for another installment in the series, as much as I enjoyed seeing El triumph over the school, and developments with Orion, it was just a wee bit frustrating to end on a massive cliffhanger (you’ve been warned).
My frustration didn’t impact my enjoyment of watching El navigate the hero/villain divide, her slow realization others wouldn’t ditch her for the least excuse, and all the imaginative ways mals could kill students and the inventive magics/artifacts students used to kill mals. Can’t wait for the next installment.