A Deadly Education Book Review

A Deadly Education Book Review

Trends and cultural shifts have occurred throughout history, from the Classical era to the Romantic, Romantic to Modernist. Not only did societies change through architecture and philosophy, but also through cultural shifts in art, music, and literature. 

Today, young adult novels have widely expanded from their beginnings in romance. Though this genre still achieves high popularity and publicity in the scene, readers crave something more. The rising popularity of books such as Cinder, Six of Crows, and Hate U Give, all tell more “realistic”, less idealized forms of stories. These books tell tales of strong female leads, more complex villains/obstacles, and contemporary themes that challenge longstanding cultural ideas, such as the gray parts of morality and the complexities that arise in death.

Most recently, a book by Naomi Novik, A Deadly Education, has taken on the challenge of creating such a story that tackles the cliché of a “supervillain” and “hero”; or at least, people who were born to take these roles.

The story begins by introducing the readers to Galadriel Higgins (El), a loner in the deadly “Scholomance”, and Orion Lake, the famed “hero” of the school that has saved most of their year from the dangerous “malefecaria” that roam the corridors. These creatures are mana-eating creatures who are harmless to regular humans but target and attack sorcerers for their mana. In the first scene, Orion saves El from a smaller “mal” as it attacks her, which begins their relationship on a seemingly high note.

Unlike the others that Orion has saved, however, El is less thankful that Orion has saved her. Instead, she is more angered at him and insists that she could’ve saved herself. It is instances like these that show the nuance of the story: offering intriguing character interactions with reasonable cause that itch a reader’s need to both explore something new yet familiar in themselves. The characters of A Deadly Education never seem to be acting out or irrationally, and it is a wonderful experience to see the characters both grow and change.

The fear of death and danger is a constant in the world of the Scholomance. Although students are supposedly learning how to stay safe from danger, it also exists all around them in the form of the “mals” that get through the school’s barriers. There are also no teachers or staff around, only the students themselves and the seemingly sentient school, which provides lectures and assignments through magical systems that the creators of the school set up long ago.

Throughout the first chapter, the reader is truly introduced into the horrors of taking care of yourself in the school, as it is revealed that simple tasks such as showering, eating, and even walking through halls put students in danger of the different kind of mals that roam the halls. It is said and consistently repeated that only a fraction of the students that arrive at the Scholomance get out, most of whom died during their “Graduation”, a ceremony in which seniors must battle their way through hordes of malefeceria waiting at the gates to school. 

In this sort of environment, it is vital that one finds useful allies in their peers. While some find them in the regular folk of the school, others seek refuge in “enclaves”, elite groups inside of the school that belong to magical institutions outside of the school. They run sort of companies that recruit and decide the fates of sorcerers outside of the Schoolomance, and to protect oneself from the onslaught of malefecaria in the outside, it is imperative that one gets into one of these enclaves.

Now, one of the main conflicts that El faces throughout the series of Scholomance is not the mals, but the fact that she is a dark sorceress that can drain the mana out of other living things in the form of “malia”. In using malia, El is unparalleled, as she finds draining other entities so easy that she must intentionally stop herself from doing it. It is said, however, that sorcerers that start using this sort of mana become corrupted in some sort of way, first physically and then mentally as they continue to use it. As a result, it isn’t much of a surprise that El, raised by the most kind and loving sorceress in the realm, refuses to even hurt bugs for their energy. Also because of her talents, however, El finds it hard to find friends in the Scholomance, which proves to play a deadly part of her education.

Naomi Novik, author

What’s interesting about A Deadly Education is its use of limited resources and a more “survivalist” approach to the fantasy genre. Instead of the limitless potential of wizards such as Harry Potter or Gandolph, A Deadly Education uses magic and mana as a resource, as something limited sorcerers build up through effort. The more arduous a task, the more mana it builds. In this way, the system seems more realistic. 

Even with the seemingly limitless powers of Orion and El throughout the series, the constant threat of running out of mana and saving up for graduation creates a sense of tension. Although the characters may overcome their current predicament, the overbearing threat of graduation still exists, and every move that the characters make seems more risky than logical, something that the characters can’t afford to be.

In this sort of setting, Novik takes an interesting approach to justifying the “selfish” nature of students as they take on a sort of survivalist mentality. To get help or anything useful, one must be useful themselves. Throughout the book, it is interesting to see this mentality be both justified and challenged by the different events that occur throughout the series.

If you like fantasy stories with a more realistic twist, A Deadly Education is the perfect book for you. It challenges stereotypes and cliches in an intriguing setting that has the reader on the edge of their seats. Although survival is a large part of the story, the relationships of the characters themselves plays a larger role in telling the true tale of the Scholomance as characters find themselves growing and shifting throughout the course of the story. There is also a sequel out, The Last Graduates, and at least one more book to end the trilogy. Universal Studios has also sectioned the book off to possibly become a movie in the coming future.