A Deadly Education (2020) by Naomi Novik – Fiction
Continuing my traverse through the fantasy genre, I picked up A Deadly Education. Coming in at a doable 320 pages, the novel moves quickly and efficiently. I enjoyed it, but at times I had to put in a lot of effort to move through it.
A Deadly Education throws you in the midst of the Scholomance, a school for those gifted in the magical arts. In Novik’s world, the Scholomance is a self-running school – there are no teachers or administrators. The school moves the children and young adults to “graduation”. Graduation culminates with the seniors attempting to escape the school alive, battling “mals”, deadly creatures that prey on those who are magically inclined to steal mana, which is the power source for those wanting to use magic.
Galaderial or El, is the main heroine of the novel, attempting to move through the school as unscathed as much as she can. We learn that there is a pecking order in the world and the magical world outside the school is made up into enclaves – magical families and individuals banding together and increasing their stock of mana for protection. Those kids privileged to come from an enclave to the Scholomance, are more prepared than those like El who do not belong to one. El’s main annoyance and companion, Orion Lake, is from the powerful enclave of New York City and Orion shows his lack of understanding of those less fortunate.
I really enjoyed Novik’s world, but it seemed like it took a lot for me to truly understand the world and after the first book (this will be a series), I am still struggling a bit to understand the rules of the world. I think it is incredibly difficult for fantasy authors to make the balance between long narrative, attempting to just tell the reader what the world is about, and allowing the natural flow of the story to explain the rules. I think Novik’s novel may have benefited more from directly explaining some of the rules, instead of allowing the reader to occasionally fall behind and reread passages to fully understand it.
One aspect I really enjoyed is the darkness of the novel. This school is deadly. Magic is deadly and there are bad people who use their magic. This novel does not shy away from that. Many at the school do not survive until graduation. There is a darkness about that book that I was not expecting – but it is balanced by some of the snakiness of El and humor thrown in.
Naomi Novik is the author of the Temeraire series and other novels. She is the founder of the Organization for Transformative Works and the Archive of Our Own.
Buy a copy at The Raven Book Store.
Lover of the written word.