A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
Categories: Dark Academia, Fantasy
First Publication Date: September 29th 2020
I received an advance copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.
There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.
El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.
A Deadly Education was one of my most anticipated reads for 2020. I was not really sure what to think of El’s narration at first, it surely was really funny, but it felt a bit too funny, a bit too joke-y, bordering on the silly. I also felt that the narration style meant that we did not get a lot of world exposure or building, except for the info-dumping that El does when it suits the plot (something in the line of “And then a monster appears and it’s terrifying! Oh by the way let me explain for the next two pages what this monster is and why it’s terrifying at all”). So this felt like it cheapened the narrative, the plot and the world building. So for the first quarter or third of the book, I was entertained, but a bit skeptical.
After you get used to it, though (and also you get more of El’s background story which was so, so interesting and sad, plus I think she got less snarky as the story goes on), I found that it worked for this book, for a simple reason: this was basically Hogwarts on steroids. So, you don’t really need a lot of background on the school or wizardry, because your knowledge of the Harry Potter series kind of fills the gaps that are missing. Naomi Novik spoke about how she based her book on the well-known series and basically imagined it darker, gorier and as an adult series. So you don’t feel completely lost during the novel, but I did not like that when I was missing information, I just immediately thought of how it worked in Harry Potter and that was quite enough until the next info-dumping session.
This is probably why this book is a bit over 300 pages long, instead of the 500 that I expected. I imagined this book to be different from how it really way, a more serious, epic kind of fantasy story, and took a bit of time to get used to El’s voice. But I eventually did, and I had a lot of fun reading this. She’s so snarky and her attempts to stop herself from becoming an overpowered Dark Lady are amazing, and I think ultimately this book conveys a message of: you are more than what people think, you can be better despite everything if you work really hard and privilege benefits a small minority and will always, always rely on the suffering of others.
I realized eventually that it reminded me a bit of the narration by Harrow from Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #2), although I much preferred Harrow. El sounded to me like the YA version of Harrow, which is also maybe why it took me a while to warm to her.
I read about the controversy regarding the locks quote, and I agree it should be removed from the printed version – which I saw that Naomi Novik will do and I’m glad she took the criticism to heart. Otherwise, the diversity of the novel did feel artificial to me, it just looked like a white person adding a checklist of representation (I had similar feelings about The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab) but I think it was still nice to have a half-Indian main character and lots of supporting characters from different countries. Brilliantly executed? No. But that’s okay. I hovered between 3 and 4 stars for this book, but in the end I had a lot of fun reading this and devoured it in a couple days (plus the ending has me !!!!) and decided to go for 4 stars.