Naomi Novik has been the darling of fantasy in the last few years, with her best-selling award winners Uprooted and Spinning Silver, but she’s bit off a new challenge this year with A Deadly Education, the first of the Scholomance trilogy.
While Novik is known for her spell-binding fantasy, this book brings a surprising amount of social commentary to the mix. Novik’s protagonist, El, is one of thousands of young wizards ensconced in a mechanical marvel of a school reminiscent of Howl’s moving castle. The haves in this case are “enclavers” young wizards from prominent or established families who belong to an enclave, a wizard community. The have-nots are pretty much everyone else, wizards from all over the world who are less well-connected, and less prepared for the trials of wizarding life. Isolated from the world, these teenagers must survive nearly constant attack by maleficaria, monsters with the fervent wish to consume tasty wizardlings.
El is a have-not, a girl used to being disliked. She has no one but her mother, a healer who could have her pick of enclaves but chooses to live apart. El is just looking for her best shot to impress the enclaves, and with her particular power, she knows that a show of force would get her the moon. She did not plan on being aggressively befriended by the class golden boy, who suspects her of a kind of magical corruption. El is eminently likable, a character with a short fuse and an observant nature. While she is closed-off from others, she has a big heart and a huge capacity for love, just little opportunity to exercise it. She is a great view into a world teeming with complexity and potential. It’s also great to have a female character who isn’t a missish teen with a hero complex- El isn’t out to save the world, and she has a realistic, if a little cynical, view of things. She’s a sweet little prickly hedgehog and I adore her.
The world Novik is building here is beautiful and interesting, although the book indulges a little too much in exposition towards the front end, by the halfway point, any reader will be on edge to find out if El will survive junior year. The book also leaves some lovely tension about El’s destiny to keep you excited for her next adventure.
A Deadly Education is out on September 29, 2020. You can buy it anywhere books are sold, or borrow it from your local library. If you are buying it off of Amazon, you can do so using our affiliate link.