A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik is the dark academia magic book of your dreams (without being a straight-up horror novel). Galadriel ‘El’ is a junior at Scholomance— a school where children with magical abilities train their mana before joining the world. However, unlike other boarding magic schools, this one is in a void, and creatures are crawling around desperate to eat you. The only way to graduate from Scholomance is to not die (which is easier said than done!). El is a loser and sucks at making friends because she bleeds ‘I am evil so fear me’ aura even though she is more of an ‘oh god how do I socialize like a normal human being without making an ass of myself.’ One day, Orion Lake, the school’s ‘hero’ rescues her…for the third time and she is absolutely livid and begins planning how to end his life. Which is the start of the most fantastic friendship ever!
My favourite thing about this book is that is doesn’t have this magnificent chosen one plot with a grand adventure. It’s a character-driven story where El desperately does not want to be this evil person everyone tells her she’s going to be (and doesn’t want to die). Destiny is like “you’re gonna be a great and powerful witch who can bring the world to its knees”, and she’s like yeah now how about no? She just wants love, friends and acceptance — and she works as best as she can to earn these things even though she absolutely sucks at socializing.
El has officially become one of my favourite characters because she is just so blunt and forward about everything, and yet she is so incredibly human and full of emotions. I don’t recall the last time I read about a character who cries from anger, in most novel people cry due to sorrow or happiness. This minuscule attention to humanity is what makes her incredibly real. The rest of the cast of the characters were also all multi-layered and dimensional. Orion is the school hero, and everyone loves him, but he is treated as an object rather than a person so when someone for once is rude to him, he is a bit at a loss and ecstatic.
Also, this is one of the most diverse fantasy school books I have ever read. Schoolmance is a school for everyone from everywhere students range from the US, South America (like senior valedictorian is a bad-ass Argentinean girl [I am so happy for South American rep because there are more to Latinx than Cubans and Mexicans ok!]), China, India, the Middle East, Japan, Eastern Europe, etc. It was a literal melting pot of different people, it made me tear up a little.
The start of the novel can be a bit jarring because there is quite a massive info and lore dump on you in the first 20 or so pages. But it is necessary because this place is nothing like you’ve ever seen before and you need to understand its rules because the story can continue.
The magic system is also so simple to understand, you can use mana or malia, but using malia is dangerous cause it uses literally living things life force. While mana is just energy, you can store and build up through exercise and various odd things. I am always down for easy to understand magic systems.
Everything about this book is excellent. However, I can see people complaining that there isn’t a definite ‘plot.’ The plot is El surviving her last two weeks of her junior year and making friends, which might appear boring to some people. But that’s the thing about character-driven stories, the plot is how the character moves forward with everyday challenges presented to them. In this case, El is trying to survive in a school that is always trying to kill you while figuring out how she is going to make it on graduation day. On graduation day, seniors have to battle across a room of monsters and make it through a gate. Not everyone makes it, especially if you are alone like El.
If you like books like Night Circus, The Starless Sea, The Bear and the Nightingale and anything written by Naomi Novik I can guarantee there will be a relatively high chance you will devour A Deadly Education.
Overall, this is deviously wicked book is the perfect dark academia book that my soul wished existed. It’s full of diverse, morally grey characters who are just trying to survive the most monstrous school in existence. It also has the best banter, no instalove and some pretty epic/slight gruesome battles.
Thank you to Penguin Books Australia for sending me a finish copy of this novel in exchange of an honest review. All opinions and thoughts are my own.
Publisher: Penguin Books Aus
Publication Date: 29 September 2020
RRP: $32.99 AUD
Personal Rating: 5/5