Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Scholomance #1

A Deadly Education

Rate this book
Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fantasy (2020)
The first book of the Scholomance trilogy is the story of an unwilling dark sorceress who is destined to rewrite the rules of magic.

I decided that Orion Lake needed to die after the second time he saved my life.

Everyone loves Orion Lake. Everyone else, that is. Far as I’m concerned, he can keep his flashy combat magic to himself. I’m not joining his pack of adoring fans.

I don’t need help surviving the Scholomance, even if they do. Forget the hordes of monsters and cursed artifacts, I’m probably the most dangerous thing in the place. Just give me a chance and I’ll level mountains and kill untold millions, make myself the dark queen of the world.

At least, that’s what the world expects. Most of the other students in here would be delighted if Orion killed me like one more evil thing that’s crawled out of the drains. Sometimes I think they want me to turn into the evil witch they assume I am. The school certainly does.

But the Scholomance isn’t getting what it wants from me. And neither is Orion Lake. I may not be anyone’s idea of the shining hero, but I’m going to make it out of this place alive, and I’m not going to slaughter thousands to do it, either.

Although I’m giving serious consideration to just one.

338 pages, Kindle Edition

First published September 29, 2020

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Naomi Novik

70 books29.5k followers
An avid reader of fantasy literature since age six, when she first made her way through The Lord of the Rings, Naomi Novik is also a history buff with a particular interest in the Napoleonic era and a fondness for the work of Patrick O’Brian and Jane Austen. She studied English literature at Brown University, and did graduate work in computer science at Columbia University before leaving to participate in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadow of Undrentide. Over the course of a brief winter sojourn spent working on the game in Edmonton, Canada (accompanied by a truly alarming coat that now lives brooding in the depths of her closet), she realized she preferred writing to programming, and on returning to New York, decided to try her hand at novels.

Naomi lives in New York City with her husband and six computers. Her website is at naominovik.com

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
46,814 (35%)
4 stars
50,406 (38%)
3 stars
24,018 (18%)
2 stars
7,097 (5%)
1 star
2,857 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 19,470 reviews
Profile Image for Maryam Rz..
220 reviews2,651 followers
April 15, 2021
⇓ Edited to Add: On the Controversy ⇓

Since its release, this book has been accused of racism. I respect those who have been hurt and am sorry for their pain, but I want to say that—as a Middle Eastern who has also strived to be as aware of racism as possible—I personally did not find this book racist. Most of the accusations I’ve read have seemed insubstantial to me—if you view words out of context with the aim of finding something offensive, of course you will succeed.

The school giving El content showing death and violence, urging her to become a mass murderer, happens for all nations as a result of her dark affinity and not just an Arabic speaking country. The issue of how languages/cultures are viewed cynically by the MC (e.g. characters being called “the Arabic speaker”) is not a sign of the author’s thoughtlessness but the truth of how El—who is deeply antisocial due to the abuse she’s faced from everyone (not just some of the Indian side of her biracial family)—sees life, with people as only assets in her eyes. This does not mean Novik endorses these views; she proves her thoughtfulness by proceeding to thoroughly tackle themes of injustice and privilege.

However, there is a harmful comment on dreadlocks for which Novik immediately apologised (source) admitting her mistake in adding the passage very late and after the sensitivity read, and that she’d meant to write only “locs.” It makes sense that El would, again, cynically analyse the practicality of various elaborate hairstyles in this deadly school; the problem was how dreadlocks were singled out, and Novik humbly apologised, promising to fix it and detailing how she would do better in the future.

So yes I love this book and author, not least because that was one of the best and most genuine apologies I’ve read. Isn’t raising awareness the ultimate goal? What can we possibly achieve by shutting down people after one mistake?

I also urge you to read the words of THIS CHINESE REVIEWER before marching into battle. Leave a comment if you’re interested in a discussion.

⇓ Actual Review ⇓

If Hogwarts was a prickly, sentient, professorless school infested with demons, and the lead was an angry, dark Queen of Sarcasm and prophesied harbinger of death, trying to study and survive...or die, you’d have this book.

Do I have your attention yet?

haunted house, Halloween, witch

You have to ration sympathy and grief in here the way you ration your school supplies.

Naomi Novik’s new series The Scholomance is, obviously, inspired by the folkloric Scholomance, a fabled school of black magic in Transylvania run by the devil.

There are apparent differences, of course; in that no one runs this school except for magic, and that this deadly version of the academy is the closest young witches and wizards can come to a protected and safe environment during their vulnerable teen years, as they happen to live in a world where their magic-filled bodies are to the monsters what marshmallow crunch brownie bars dripping with chocolate are to yours truly:

That is, y u m m y.

Nobody gets to live or not live because they deserve it, deserving doesn’t count for a thing.

With an awesome unlikeable MC (just my type), LOL-producing writing, mouthwatering world-building, YA highschool-ish vibe, and chilling, gag-inducing creatures roaming the hallways, bathrooms, and all the nooks and crannies of the insubstantial and magical structure of the place (one of which nearly gave me—Queen of Being Unperturbed By Dreams and Thrilled By What Most Consider Nightmares—nightmares) this could’ve easily been an entertaining five star read, if not for the info dumps.

I enjoy info dumps. I really do. I even binge-read Wikipedia in my free time. But there is something called “this is not the place dammit I’m excited for something else move aside,” m’dear.

It’s too easy to call people evil instead of their choices, and that lets people justify making evil choices, because they convince themselves that it’s okay because they’re still good people overall, inside their own heads.

I’ll just continue to appreciate the tackling of struggles rising from mixed ethnicity and not fitting anywhere, applaud the diversity that extends to even food, fall in love with the dominant theme of inequality and privilege so thoroughly explored, make puppy eyes the attention to science and technicalities, and be absorbed by the focus on carefully and creatively crafted lessons and study strategies, all while listening to my book playlist on repeat (which you can find at the end of the review) and waiting for the sequel.

⇓ Storyline ⇓

(Most) all memorable heroes have a prophecy. Well, so does El. It just so happens that hers isn’t a prophecy of saving the world blah blah, it’s one of death and destruction. Charming, right?

Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, no one else thinks so.

Thus our snarky little main character will have to navigate school without allies, the consequence of which would not be a lonely, dejected life, but rather death at graduation when she will have to pass through a hall of monsters to get out of the damned place without anyone watching her back.

She intends to avoid that, of course, which means this dark witch needs to focus on smooth talking the politics and sitting arrangements of school life and establishing herself as a powerful addition to any interested group (much like peacocks tidying their feathers and attracting mates, one might say), while at the same time studying and surviving and making sure she doesn’t slaughter thousands to do so. Easy peasy.

So I believe you realise how annoying it is for a shining hero by the name of Orion Lake to swoop in, repeatedly, and turn her into a damsel in distress.

Selfish of me, you’ll say, to be contemplating with murderous intent the hero responsible for the continued survival of a quarter of our class. Well, too bad for the losers who couldn’t stay afloat without his help. We’re not meant to all survive, anyway. The school has to be fed somehow.

⇓ Storytelling ⇓

I didn’t want to actually become a maleficer and then go bursting out of this place like some monstrous butterfly hatching from a gigantic chrysalis of doom to lay waste and sow sorrow across the world as per the prophecy.

A Deadly Education is my first book by Naomi Novik but can I just say that I stan her style??

Witty, humourous, and sprinkled with exactly the right amount of absurdity in her genius similes and metaphors, Novik has immediately established her herself as a new fave author of mine with her technique. I’m telling you, even the (admittedly too frequent and unflattering) info dumps were done with such a unique touch that I’m simply impressed! The banter. The hilarious moments brewed and executed so aptly. Ahhh.

“I know you’re just waiting for us to put your statue up, but that’s no reason to carry on like a slab of solid rock.”

The best part of the storytelling was, however, the way the author somehow threw thriller and humour in the same pot and unbelievably got a delicious unputdownable stew out of it. I mean, we would encounter a petrifying monster that had me on the verge of screaming and we are about to die and yet Naomi proceeds to kindly point you toward more books for further information. Like, WHAT. My expression was something between 😱 and 😂; upon messing around with the emojis, this is the closest I’ve gotten: screaming in fear mixed with laugh emoji

⇓ Characters ⇓

Galadriel aka El:

Meet the protagonist; a powerful witch with an affinity for dark magic so deadly even minor spells can turn into catastrophes—lonely, angry, bitter, sarcastic, smart, creative, natural with incantations, and shunned by anyone and everyone. And, whadayaknow, I was never ever annoyed by her snappish ungrateful behaviour because she’s just pure tragedy and has every right to be as she is—I even urged her on if I’m being honest, and yes you now may go ahead and call me crazy yay.

“You feel like it’s going to rain.”
But Aadhya was already waving her hands around and elaborating. “You know that feeling when you’re a mile away from anywhere, and you didn’t take your umbrella because it was sunny when you left, and you’re in your good suede boots, and suddenly it gets dark and you can tell it’s about to start pouring buckets, and you’re like
Oh great.” She nodded to herself, satisfied with her brilliant analogy. “That’s what it feels like, whenever you show up.”

It’s painful to be judged before you’ve had a chance. And El, my baby, has always had the worst assumed about her because of her power and the wrongness it projects to others—even as an innocent child. And tired and full of hate, she becomes the angry bitter person everyone now rightly avoids.

I understood how she wanted to be wanted for herself and didn’t care for being wanted by the many self-serving people around her. I shared her emotions and bitterness at what kept happening to her. But more than anything else, I loved her acknowledgement of her anger issues. So yes, I spent the entire book chanting go dark go dark kill them all, praying she’d end up going down the terrifying sorceress path prophecised for her. And yes, I am still praying.

⤷ I see her as Disney’s Megara ⤵

Orion Lake:

Meet the love interest; initially annoying, generally unbelievable and bewildering, messy, clueless, also lonely bulldozer of a hero who is such a hero that, at some points, it stops being annoying (to me, I mean, the evil soul who can’t stand these Gryffinpuffs) and starts being hilarious and even adorable. How I ended up loving this privileged, sheltered boy acting all gloriously good and gracious, going around killing monsters as if they are the real baddies of this unjust world...is anyone’s guess. It might have to do with how much of a sweet and non-toxic boy he is.

⤷ To me, he’s a total Hercules ⤵

Everyone Else:

I think I need to stop rambling before you guys come hunt me down and kill me in the most gruesome ways you can imagine for writing and writing and writing and WRITING nonstop like a typing machine gone rouge. I’ll only say the rest were fleshed out as well and even our Mean Girl was More Than Just A Mean Girl.

⇓ Relationships ⇓

The dynamic of Gal (protagonist) and Orion (love interest) is practically Megara and Hercules from Disney’s 1997 animation. In short:

So thank you, Naomi Novik, for giving me a new cute, crazy, quietly-brewing, enemies-to-reluctant-allies-to-not-yet-lovers, promising romance with such a hilarious bond that jumps right out of the page, grabbing me by the throat with its grasping hands made of iconic banter and scenes. And thank you, for the beautifully written journey of discovering what loyalty, understanding, and acceptance in friendship feel like—especially female ones.

See? I can keep it short, too. #yayme

⇓ Worldbuilding ⇓

This world. THIS WORLD. What can I say to encompass the massive amount of awe-inspiring info delivered in these 300+ pages? A world with magic-eating monsters where the privileged live in protected enclaves and the rest of the rabble fend for themselves and, inevitably, die. A moody school in the place between nowhere and everywhere that relies on belief to stay upright, so dangerous you have to check every step lest a nightmare jump out from beneath the table and eat you alive. And pure madness.

You’re probably wondering: How in the world would an academy with no adults and teachers actually function? Why would students be crammed into a building, all as perfect bait for the hungry demons? And trust me, dear Naomi has thought of every criticism and argument and counter-argument (like someone y’all know *winky wink*), and discussed them to make impossible “I’m possible.”

To be honest, I’ve never been especially fond of the teacher-student dynamic as to me it’s unnecessary in most cases—I understand that many need someone to explain what they read to them but, for me, there’s nothing I can’t learn through reading a book or being observant and practicing; in fact, I prefer not to have some teacher keep irritating me and telling me what to do. That’s why I found the professorless school Naomi Novik has come up with to be extremely relatable and rather refreshing when every “magic school” book centres around it. In Scholomance, you either study independently or with your friends’ help, or you die.

Fascinating and insane, that’s the only way to put it.

An Scholomance-library-sized thanks to my superhero for sending me an eARC from Edelweiss!

⇓ Companions ⇓

Book playlist: Spotify URL

Books in series:
⤷ A Deadly Education (The Scholomance, #1) ★★★★☆
The Last Graduate (The Scholomance, #2) ☆☆☆☆☆
Profile Image for Asma.
20 reviews159 followers
October 7, 2020
Harry Potter’s massive cultural impact means that we haven’t seen the last of magic schools set in Britain, and we probably won’t for a long while. In some ways, the fantasy genre’s response to Rowling’s work is tiresome. In others, it’s exciting—because a generation of readers and writers have grown up to bring their own perspective to the limits of Rowling’s work and push it beyond the limits of its author. However, if you’re looking for a transgressive magic academy book that interrogates the limited morality, inclusivity, and perspective of Harry Potter, you should put Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education back on the shelf and keep looking.

A Deadly Education tells the story of Galadriel “El” Higgins, a half-British half-Indian sorcerer attending a magic school where the consequences of any mistake might mean sudden death. El is a loner by nature and circumstance, but walking alone in the halls of Scholomance might mean being attacked and devoured by one of the school’s monsters. This puts El on a crash course with Orion Lake, the shining hero of her year who takes it upon himself to save the lives of his fellow students, including a less-than-grateful El.

The set up honestly sounds pretty good—a prickly protagonist, a heroic rival-slash-love interest, a deadly setting, and the potential for deep lore in magic and world-building. Unfortunately, not only does Novik fail to deliver on any of the premises’ strengths, she also chooses to weigh her narrative down with reductive, tone-deaf, and downright racist details.

El’s particular class of magic relies on language. El speaks English and Marathi, and picks up Sanskrit, Hindi, Latin and Old English in her study of language-based spells. It’s a little uncomfortable that Novik lumps dead and defunct languages like Latin and Old English together with actively spoken ones like Mandarin, Hindi, and Spanish, but that isn’t where Novik’s faux paus end. El approaches languages like computer programs to be downloaded onto her hard drive. Despite languages being the basis of her magic, she has no personal connections to the ones she’s speaking. She views other students and their languages the same way, identifying groups of students as “the Mandarin speakers”, “the Arabic speakers,” etc. Novik seems clueless about the relationships between the languages she’s building her world’s magic around, putting Sanskrit tombs in Baghdad and declaring that the Scholomance has a library aisle containing all of India’s languages. (About 800 individual languages are spoken in India, fyi.)

This clinical approach to diversity extends from language into character. El doesn’t try to make many friends, and honestly it’s not hard to see her classmates don’t try to befriend her, either. She doesn’t describe her classmates as people—she describes them as assets. And while that could be explained away by the premise that half her classmates won’t make it out of school alive, and El needs allies more than friends to survive, it doesn’t make it any better when El refers to others exclusively by the language knowledge they offer her. A character named Ibrahim has no personality or backstory, but he conveniently pops up when El needs someone who knows Arabic. A character named Kaito is thoughtlessly grouped in with the Mandarin speakers. An Argentine character exclaims in Spanish when she’s excited or relieved. There’s an uncomfortable distinction between the languages that get written out in the text—Spanish, French—and the ones that get narrated away—a character exclaims in Mandarin.

Novik goes out of her way to let us know that the population of Scholomance is diverse. There’s a group of South and West African students (only one of whom is named, and none of whom are important). There’s a “civilized” enclave of magicians in Toronto who value family and human life more than other groups. One character might graduate and go to Bangkok, but he’s looking to secure himself a place in Shanghai instead. Naomi Novik really knows the names of cities on at least four continents, and she’s not about to let you forget it!

But aside from names, languages, and cities, Novik has given no thought to what diversity means, or who these characters are if they come from diverse backgrounds. El calls on “Mandarin-speaker,” Yi Liu, exclusively by the name Liu. Is Liu meant to be this character’s first name? Or her surname? El doesn’t call anyone else by surname, but Liu is a Chinese surname, one of the most common in the world. El’s father is a Marathi-speaker from Mumbai, but El has no personal connection to Indian culture. Her father’s family prophesied that El would be a destroyer, and other than that rejection El has nothing to say about India or half of her culture. She refers to her Indian relatives in clinical English descriptors (my father’s mother, my great-grandmother, my uncles), even though she is purportedly fluent in Marathi and should know words like Panaji, Aaji and Kaka. El says that her Indian family is from an old Hindu enclave, and yet they have djinn as servants. (Djinn aren’t a typical part of Hindu cosmology, though they are a significant part of Islamic texts.)

Making El biracial seems like an afterthought, not something that affects her character in any way. It just creates some truly unfortunate optics, like when El goes on a three-paragraph description of how unnecessary she finds showers and how dirty she is at any given time. El’s father died making sure her pregnant mother (and therefore, El herself) would live, and yet El barely thinks about him. His name is mentioned once in the entire book. El complains that (presumably white) British people “assume she speaks Hindi” or call her the color of weak tea. But her Indian heritage is a veneer placed on top of a character who is otherwise just a default white protagonist.

All this adds up to a character (and a world), that reads as nothing so much as colonial. El feasts on the languages of others for her own edification, power, and survival, but she doesn’t see her classmates as people, and she doesn’t see language as a living thing related to real cultures. And I’m given to believe that Naomi Novik holds the same views, what with how she throws around the word “mana” as part of her world-building without considering its roots and real-life meaning to Polynesian and Melanesian peoples.

However, nothing makes the cultural tone-deafness of this book more evident than this passage:

Dreadlocks are unfortunately not a great idea thanks to lockleeches, which you can probably imagine, but in case you need help, the adult spindly thing comes quietly down at night and pokes an ovipositor into any big clumps of hair, lays an egg inside, and creeps away. A little while later the leech hatches inside its comfy nest, attaches itself to your scalp almost unnoticeably, and starts very gently sucking up your blood and mana while infiltrating further. If you don’t get it out within a week or two, it usually manages to work its way inside the skull, and you’ve got a window of a few days after that before you stop being able to move. On the bright side, something else usually finishes you off quickly at that point.

El’s pithy commentary about imminent death aside, I have a hard time reading anything but casual and thoughtless racism from this passage. The nefarious and deliberate myth of dreadlocks being unhygienic (and by extension, Black people being endemically dirty) is pervasive to this day. And Naomi Novik decides to include this passage in a book that has no major Black characters, in which dreadlocks never even come up in any meaningful way, just to remind us that in this magic world of hers, dreadlocks are dirty! Monster insects nest in them! The consequences are death! There was no good reason to include this passage, and all it does is draw on inaccurate and racist myths and perpetuate them into a world where anti-Black racism is never contended with. Although, I suppose, why would it? El never has need of any languages from the West or South Africans.

A Deadly Education bills itself as a subversive, even feminist, response to Harry Potter. But just like J. K. Rowling, Naomi Novik is a white author who uses other cultures thoughtlessly to build her own magic world. Other cultures and peoples exist, but only to serve the aims and needs of white (or mostly white-coded) characters. Novik has no empathy, no care and apparently no ability to Google anything about the cultures she wants to draw on. And the result isn’t just insulting—it’s boring. The world-building in this book is as dry and dusty as any history written by 19th century British colonizers.

Using some foreign names and making your protagonist biracial does not shield your work from racism. It does open you up to more pitfalls in depicting other peoples and cultures, if you don’t care to look out for them.

It would be nice to close by saying that despite its flaws, A Deadly Education is an enjoyable book. But it isn’t. It’s just a badly-researched, emotionless story told by rote.
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews112k followers
October 24, 2020
My favorite part about this book was the relationship between El and Orion. El’s prickly attitude towards Orion, who does nothing but nice things for her, totally amused me from beginning to end and I found their dynamic to be silly and endearing. The writing style very much rambles since it’s directly from El’s voice, and is therefore peppered with sarcasm and brooding petulance. This book would be better enjoyed by people who like reading dark academia YA stories (it definitely steers younger rather than adult), expositional world building, and lots of inner monologue. You have to be invested in the world of these magic schools to want to go through the info dumps, as well as like the main character to enjoy her style of rambling.

As for some of the criticisms the book has faced, I agree that singling out dreadlocks was an oversight on Novik’s part, and likely her attempt at adding extra detail to her world building. After reading the book for full context, I definitely think it was not necessary to the plot at all, so I’m glad she’ll be taking them out in future publications because such oversights are not worth stirring up controversy. I don’t quite agree with the criticisms about El’s biracial identity, because there are many diaspora people who don’t feel connected to their culture, and we should be mindful of not invalidating their experiences that are similar to El’s. To me, this book is not trying to tackle racial diversity (I would hope not, since that’s going to automatically be a losing battle for any white author) but instead touches more upon class privilege with the way that enclaves are set up and conversations that El has with Orion.

Regardless, I would still rather read this than Harry Potter.
Profile Image for Hailey (Hailey in Bookland).
611 reviews87.5k followers
January 24, 2021
I got 50 pgs in and just did not care for the writing style at all. It’s a lot of stream of consciousness kind of rambling that is just throwing buckets of info at you at once and just did not make me interested in the slightest. Probably could’ve given it more of a chance but the rest of the book seems to have the same style of writing and I’m just not interested enough to push through
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,194 reviews40.5k followers
December 31, 2022
Hogwarts meets Deadly Class’ world building with sassy, smart, humorous vibes, completely badass, snarky, grumpy, sarcastic queen as a heroine and a clueless hero walking between the lines of being irritating and hysterical.

I was waiting more bloodshed, bleak, horrifying, gory premise but instead of that I got dark comedy with creative ideas, deliciously absurd twists, extremely entertaining, addictive story with a sassiest and smartest ( of course she is half Indian, half Welsh) heroine called El who slays the monsters hiding in the professor-less, creepy Scholomance, an ideal educational institution at the post-Corona world!

But don’t worry she can kick all those vicious monsters’ asses, stay alive and continue to her precious education, thanks to the help of her protector Orion Lake!

No more words. No more clues: Read it! Read it! Read it! Read it! Read it! Read it! Read it! Read it! Read it! Read it! Read it!

Overall; I haven’t so much fun for a long time! I want more ASAP!
Profile Image for Namera [The Literary Invertebrate].
1,191 reviews2,916 followers
January 15, 2022
ARC provided in exchange for an honest review - thank you!

EDIT: I do NOT believe this book is racist.

I'm suddenly noticing that a few people are levelling accusations of racism at this book. I don't believe these accusations are justified. IMO, all the complaints are attributable to the fact that a) El is very antisocial, meaning she struggles to connect/care about anybody, regardless of what race they are; and b) she grew up in Wales away from her Indian family. Of course she's not going to refer to them by their Indian names and think fondly of them! It's unfair to even suggest that she should. I was born in Bangladesh, but I only lived there six months before we moved to Hong Kong, and I call my grandparents/uncles/aunts by English terms, not 'nanijee' or 'khalamoni'. It makes perfect sense to me that El would do the same.

Here is a rebuttal I wrote to the claims of racism.

OH MY GOD this book is bloody GENIUS.

I've never been one of Novik's more rabid fans. I thought Uprooted was okay, and I actively dislike Spinning Silver. But this book blows them both of out of the water. It's smart, wicked, dark, and thrilling.

Sixteen-year-old Galadriel 'El' Higgins is a sorceress. Like other magic wielders, at the age of fourteen she was bussed into the Scholomance, a magical school without any teachers or authority figures whatsoever. She hasn't left since. The only way a student leaves school is by graduating, and that involves a frantic race for life through a horde of ravening monsters. Only about half a senior class ever make it.

These monsters - maleficaria, or 'mals' - are absolutely everywhere, and they love nothing better than consuming sorcerers. True, the school is infested with mals, but students still come to the Scholomance because your chances of survival are even worse if you pass through puberty on the outside. Every day, El wakes up, tries desperately to find someone who'll let her walk to breakfast or the bathroom with them, and then settles down to learning all the things you need to get out of the Scholomance alive.

(In case you're wondering how this school works without teachers, Novik does a great job of explaining. Basically, you do the work, or you die). 

El is half Indian and half Welsh, but she doesn't fit in for more reasons than just her mixed ethnicity. She's a dark sorceress: she was born with an affinity for death and destruction magic, which she has to be very careful to keep herself from using. It would be far too easy for her to destroy the Scholomance - and everyone inside it. So, no matter how much she's ostracised for the weird vibes people get off her, and her abrasive personality, she keeps a tight lid on her self-control.  

Orion Lake is pretty much at the other end of the social spectrum from El. He's a wealthy New Yorker with access to almost limitless magic, and as if that wasn't bad enough, he has a hero complex. He's saved hundreds of students from mals... and she's one of them. She can't stand that. But he needs someone to save him from himself, and that someone looks like it might have to be El. 

I don't think there's anything about this book I didn't LOVE.

✔️ El's character is perfect. She's prickly and snarky, because she's been hurt so much, but she's loyal, smart, and incredibly relatable. Her development over the course of the book - from furious loner to someone who lets Orion in, and realises that maybe she's garnering real friends too - is beautiful to behold. Oh, and also, she's hilarious. 

✔️ The worldbuilding is brilliant. It's clear Novik put an insane amount of thought into this series, and it really shows. I guess you might call some paragraphs infodumping, but I was so fascinated by this whole concept that I absorbed all of it greedily. Nothing seemed too much for me. I just wanted to know more about the whole world Novik has created here. The Scholomance is described exactly as I'd imagine it, and I'm so glad she's done justice to it.

✔️ The romance is just right. It's barely even a romance, just the lightest touch of one, but it's set up very well for the next book. Orion is such a great character.

✔️ I love the diversity. The Scholomance is very multicultural, taking in literally all the magical students from around the world. This is incorporated into the book without feeling like we're being beaten over the head with it. 


Go read the damn book. I've been purposely vague on the plot, because this is something where you really will derive maximum enjoyment form going in blind. 

[Blog] - [Bookstagram]

 photo c l i m b C2A0e v e r y C2A0m o u n t a i n 2_zpsykn9gbgr.png
Profile Image for Nataliya.
743 reviews11.8k followers
October 12, 2022
2022 reread: Upping to full 5 stars. Love this series immensely. I want to be El’s best friend.

2021 reread: Yes, of course Carol is right (as she always is) — the protagonist *is* a Murderbot. How did I not see it myself???

Upping to 4.5 stars on reread, given how much absolute delight it brought me.

“We’re not meant to all survive, anyway. The school has to be fed somehow.”
Scholomance is an isolated magical boarding school in the Void that you enter at fourteen and - maybe, possibly, if you are *very* lucky - get to leave four years later. But before you sign up, keep in mind: “Most of the time less than a quarter of the class makes it all the way through graduation.” There are no teachers but the students still study hard - it’s the only thing to do when your choices are learn enough useful skills and maybe live or fall prey to the multitude of monsters living there (and occasionally to your own classmates).

The magical world is plagued by multitudes of maleficaria - “mals” - who love going after magical kids (especially around puberty, which already sucks even without magical monster attacks) in the most gruesome ways. You are safe-ish in the wizarding enclaves, but those are exclusive, powerful and nigh-impossible to join. If you are an “independent” non-enclave wizard kid, your odds to survive are pathetic. Those odds, however, dramatically increase if they spend their adolescence educated in Scholomance because even this murderous school is still safer than the outside world:

“[…] If you’re an indie kid who doesn’t get into the Scholomance, these days your odds of making it to the far side of puberty are one in twenty. One in four is plenty decent odds compared to that.”

Except even in the school the students are certainly NOT on equal footing. The enclave kids are the privileged crowd, with 80% chance of surviving through graduation, with their strong position, shared stories of magic, protection shields and the ability to get the non-enclave kids scrambling to do anything for them and serve as cannon-fodder for the merest promise of joining an alliance that may get them alive during the graduation slaughter (the mals descend on the trapped students each graduation day, and only half of those who already have survived four brutal years of constant danger lurking everywhere manage to escape the monsters feeding frenzy) and for the slightest chance of invitation to join the coveted safety of an enclave post-graduation. The indie kids know they are meant to be cannon fodder so that the elite can go on being elite, but the alternative seems even bleaker and there seems little you can do to upset the bloody status quo.

“When the enclaves first built the Scholomance, the induction spell didn’t pull in kids from outside the enclaves. The enclavers made it sound like a grand act of generosity when they changed it to bring us all in, but of course it was never that. We’re cannon fodder, and human shields, and useful new blood, and minions, and janitors and maids, and thanks to all the work the losers in here do trying to get into an alliance and an enclave after, the enclave kids get extra sleep and extra food and extra help, more than if it was only them in here. And we all get the illusion of a chance. But the only chance they’re really giving us is the chance to be useful to them.”

Galadriel (“El”) Higgins, named so by her whimsical commune-dwelling witch mother, has the potential to be probably the most powerful student at the school, but she chooses to hold back because following her powers will certainly make a maleficer, one who feeds off the life energy of others and is destined for gruesome end. She is supposedly born evil, a future dark sorceress whose magical affinity is “laying waste to multitudes”, who is sought out by evil spells and cannot even dip a toe in the dark magic before it becomes irreversible for her.

“Some sorcerers get an affinity for weather magic, or transformation spells, or fantastic combat magics like dear Orion. I got an affinity for mass destruction.”

She is an enclave-less loner outcast in school, with people staying away from her because they subconsciously sense her evil potential, holding her powers back to prevent death and destruction, and pragmatically planning and plotting possible ways to survive day-to-day life and - hopefully - the graduation day slaughter, only a year away. All while narrating this story to us in the snarkiest, prickliest, most sarcastic voice that grew on me quicker than I expected:

“That might sound extreme, but it’s not explicitly a spell to conjure mortal flame, it’s a sliding-scale spell to conjure magical fire. Most people love those spells, because virtually anyone can cast them successfully and you just get different results depending on your affinity and how much mana you put into it. Even if you’re a fumbling child, you can use it to light a match, and get better at casting it. Or if you’re me, you can suck the life force out of a dozen kids and then incinerate half the school with you inside it. So helpful!”

Unexpectedly even to herself, El slowly builds tentative friendships with a few of her classmates - including an enclave kid, irritatingly heroic (sometimes stupidly and recklessly so) and very well-connected Orion Lake, whose actions to save too many kids from otherwise sure destruction by monsters (remember - at Scholomance death of students is a feature, not a bug) have upset the delicate balance in this bloody environment. And things are getting dangerous even by Scholomance standards.

I started this book a bit skeptical - about the magical school setting, the snarky heroine, the generous helping of exposition in the first few chapters - and then I realized that I loved it all, exposition and school history included, and was feverishly reading on, enjoying the strange deadly setting and survival strategies and even the inevitable softening of a few rough edges of our prickly unwilling dark sorceress in the making. In a school like that, I would have been monster snack in week one, so watching El navigate this life while making Orion see some sense, learning to work on friendship and kindness, and kicking some monster ass was so much fun.

“Breakfast isn’t half as dangerous as dinner, but it’s still never good to walk alone.”

The setting itself is fascinating. A self-regulating living organism of the school with the self-regulated life and education, a cross between a prison and a safe-ish (ok, deadly) haven, a deadly magical boot camp that is still full of adolescent politics and the uneven power play between those in power and those who can only dream of it is a fun place to read about (but certainly not to visit unless you’re ready for the monsters to pick bits of you out of their teeth.)

“I hate this school more than anyplace in the entire world, not least because every once in a while, you get forcibly reminded that the place was built by geniuses who were trying to save the lives of their own children, and you’re unspeakably lucky to be here being protected by their work. Even if you’ve been allowed in only as another useful cog.”

It’s fun, suspenseful, sharp and just snarky enough to entertain but not to grate too much on the adult mind. (The snark does gets toned down a bit as El softens her sharp edges just a tad). It starts very much YA but throughout the story moves into more adult territory so organically that you notice it almost in retrospect, and even graying heads can enjoy it, honestly. It’s excellent at showing very plausible struggles and anxieties of a young person in a quite implausible world and situations. It’s a magic school story with sharp menacing teeth, and I loved that.

“I’d got used to my ordinary level of low-grade bitterness and misery, to putting my head down and soldiering on. Being happy threw me off almost as much as being enraged.”

It shines not only in its setting but the characters as well. The supporting characters are wonderfully drawn and nuanced - Aadhya, Liu, Chloe, Orion - they started feeling real to me. The friendships - first tentative, then real - were portrayed with skill and heart. And the dreaded romance angle was almost sidestepped, for which I’m immensely grateful. (Side note: it’s nice to note discussion of avoiding teen pregnancy and IUD in a book about adolescents). And the classism and social privilege criticism part was a part of the actual story as opposed to shoehorned preachiness that we can see from less skillful writers who try to stay “current”. Not Novik - she addresses it well and makes it a logical story thread, and I loved that as well.

4 stars. I certainly can’t wait to read the sequel.

“I love having existential crises at bedtime, it’s so restful.”


My Hugo and Nebula Awards Reading Project 2021: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


Also posted on my blog.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,533 reviews32.3k followers
November 12, 2020
well, its official - third time is not the charm.

i assumed because this is NNs first try at the YA genre, her storytelling would feel more modern and less stuffy than her adult fairytale retellings. but nope. this is the exact same slogging narrative i have come to know and dislike. NNs style of 80% internal monologue/narration is just not for me. theres just a lot of info-dumping, tedious and repetitive descriptions, and too much telling/not enough showing for my liking.

i also had a massive problem with the main character. she annoyed me right from the first page. shes rude, obnoxious, selfish, and the most infuriating character i have ever read. the thing is, she knows she is like this, but she doesnt care. i had very low hopes for a redemption arc, but that never happened. surprise surprise.

all of these things lead me to start skimming at about 35% mark because i was ready for the story to be done and over with.

i think fans of NN will enjoy this, because this is more of the same, but i think its finally time for me to admit she is not an author for me.

1.5 stars
Profile Image for carol..
1,532 reviews7,857 followers
October 18, 2022
Why didn't anyone tell me the lead is a Murderbot? I would have read this much, much sooner.

Alright, the full review is here, with sub-spoilers:

Definitely a book that has earned a place in my library and will be re-read until the sequel is out September 28. Here's to my inspiring buddies, Nataliya and Jennifer, and to Emma for a great discussion!

Re-read July 2022 because I just love that tone. Such a nice balance between cynicism and hope.
Profile Image for ELLIAS (elliasreads).
477 reviews38.1k followers
October 25, 2021

That's it. That's my review. Am I a professional or what.

Honestly a super super strong 4 STARS for me. Hmmmm 4.5? I reaaallly enjoyed this; I actually didn't think I would at first. But after the hurdle through the first fifty pages, dannngg I really ate this up.

If anybody asks me what this book is about, I literally still don't have a clue. I would say 60% went over my head with all the mechanics and magics and works of the place, system, school, whatever. And the exposition.....gOod gOd tHe eXPoSiTiON!!!!!!

This book should have been called A DEADLY EXPOSITION because I kid you not, if you took that all out, this book- the actual story- it would have been like 60 pages long. I don't think I've ever given such a high rating to a book containing and the majority filled with so much fucking backstory and information....but no regrets here.

Oh did I tell you I literally just bought the second book too? So no cliffhangers for me thank you very much!!
Twitter | Bookstagram | Youtube |
June 14, 2021
EDIT 1: It seems that some people have gone out of their way (and, likely, minds!) to label this book a racist one. Well, I'd advise them to have their brains checked since they seem to be morons. There isn't anything even remotely racist in here. Races aren't even discussed.
The languages that are. Discussed. Are discussed in a general multicultural way. So no need to go crazy. Amen!

EDIT 2: It seems that NN was forced to apologise for the passage on dreadlocks that can get infested with magical pests. Yuck.
There's nothing wrong with the description.
There's everything wrong with the apology: it shouldn't exist in the 1st place.
Real life dreadlocks can be made of any hair whatsoever. I've seen people from about every race and many nations wearing them.
Real life dreadlocks without proper hygiene can also get infested by creepy-crawleys since the bugs never ask people what their race or nationality or anthing else are. Lice generally don't chat.
I sincerely hope that the whole debacle's just a PR stunt of NN's since I don't really want to believe that any readers could be stupid enough to demand an apology for such a thing.

EDIT 3: Fantasy is fantasy for a reason. People getting offended at fantastic characters learning languages must be sick.
What next? Will languages become a forbidden subject? We're so moving towards 1984!
As a person from multiple cultures who enjoys learning various languages and cultures, I love the take on El and most other students being polyglots. As for them not going in for full on cultural immersion, I think that's bonkers: we were explained in fantastic detail how even taking showers is resource-heavy, how they need to work all the time just to stay alive and build some mana and keep themselves marginally fed. They all are in a void and not just culturally but literally the whole school is suspended somewhere in some void. So being somewhat disconnected culturalwise is a given of the fantasy setting and not a racist mission statement.

I'm pretty sure they all've got lives before them to go being the cultural fiends on the languages they've learned. And at Scholomance they first need to survive and to do that they need being able to cast spells in different languages.

Also, what the hell? Who of their sane mind would go crazy lovey-dovey on the culture of the side of the family that tried to do maybe murder them in their crib due to some doom and gloom profecy? Also, if El starts getting interested in, say, Mandarin, she's going to be forced by the school to learn it and immediately start doing charms and sit exams in it and suffer life-threatening consequences if she fails learning it. She's even afraid at looking at library books titles in the languages she doesn't take. So... El has plenty of good reason to be cagey about at least some cultures. Plot-wise. Not because being culturally aloof is her life mission.

Considering that I'm usually the 1st person to bash cultures being misrepresented in what seems to be every 3d book I read, it's a relief that for once I'm quite happy about the multicultural approach.

Anyway, I'd love to see the stats on the languages that the people who bash the linguistic component actually know. I'm pretty sure no one who isn't fluent at 10 languages at least has any right to bash how languages are depicted studied in here. Why 10? Like our fictional El, even though 3 of hers are dead ones.

✧ ⌘✦ ✧ ⌘✦ ✧ ⌘✦ ✧ ⌘✦ ✧ ⌘✦
So, the book is phenomenal!

Q: I love having existential crises at bedtime, it's so restful. (c)

Q: That sort of thing is always happening to me. Some sorcerers get an affinity for weather magic, or transformation spells, or fantastic combat magics like dear Orion. I got an affinity for mass destruction. It’s all my mum’s fault, of course, just like my stupid name.
... when I want to straighten my room, I get instructions on how to kill it with fire. (c)
Of course.

This is a book that I've been valiantly trying reading at lunch. Multiple times before I realised that this is not a lunch-reading book. At all. That reading about things that 'rot from the inside and then collapse on themselves is not a great appetizer'.

And I almost wound up hating it for ruining lots of lunchtimes for me. Good thing I changed my reading habits for it, ultimately.

Galadriel (Gal, El) needs to kill Orion Lake since he's cramping her style. And the school's getting hungry-ish and gives her all the 'delightful cataclysmic spells' it can find lying about in voids.
Her personality is horrible enough to be endearing. Professor Snape, is that you masquerading as Galadriel?? Beautiful name, BTW.
We’re not meant to all survive, anyway. The school has to be fed somehow. (c)

That's quite the backflash:
“I don’t want to summon an army of scuvara! I don’t want to conjure walls of mortal flame! I want my bloody room clean!��� ...
What came flying out of the void in answer was a horrible tome encased in some kind of pale crackly leather with spiked corners that scraped unpleasantly as it skidded to me across the metal of the desk. The leather had probably come off a pig, but someone had clearly wanted you to think it had been flayed from a person, which was almost as bad, and it flipped itself open to a page with instructions for enslaving an entire mob of people to do your bidding. I suppose they would have cleaned my room if I told them to. (c)

Gal is a polyglot: Marathi, Hindi, French, Spanish, Sanskrit, Latin, German, and Middle and Old English...

Gotta love the take on Bullshit Jobs: A Theory:
Most wizards don’t bother with mundane work—it’s considered a bit low—or if they do, they hunt themselves out an empty sack of a job. The person who retires from the firm after forty-six years and no one quite remembers what they were doing, the befuddled librarian that you occasionally glimpse wandering the stacks without seeming to do anything, the third vice president of marketing who shows up only for meetings with senior management; that sort of thing. There’re spells to find those jobs or coax them into existence, and then you’ve provided yourself with the necessities of life and kept your time free to build mana and make your cheap flat into a twelve-room mansion on the inside. (c)
Yeah, I'm persuaded a librarian's salary will pay for that mansion.

Q: Doing magic in front of someone who doesn’t believe in it is loads harder. (c)
I'm pretty sure this applies to anything. Not just magic.
I already know ten times more spells for destruction and dominion than the entire graduating class of seniors put together. You would too if you got five of them every time you wanted to mop the bloody floor. (c)
What is it with you, are you actively trying to meet new and exciting mals? ...
“Don’t you like practicing your affinity?” ...
“My affinity is laying waste to multitudes, so I haven’t had much opportunity to try the experience,” (c)
It’s not that I’m ugly; on the contrary, I’ve been growing increasingly beautiful in a tall and alarming way, as befits the terrible dark sorceress I’m meant to be, at least until I presumably collapse into a grotesque crone. Boys often think for about ten seconds that they might want to go out with me, and then they look into my eyes or talk to me and I suppose get the strong impression I’m likely to devour their souls or something. (c)
I did notice him seething, but I was too busy seething myself to care. (c)
As I wasn’t myself a noble hero with a limitless store of mana and all the sense of an unvarnished deck chair, I went down slowly and cautiously. (c)

The mana-building is hilarious:
was I starting to feel evil? Yes, now I was worrying I’d be turned to the dark side by too much crochet. (c)

Existential much?
What right did I have to take that for myself, eight times and counting? Why did I deserve to live more than them?
But I had an answer now: I hadn’t pulled malia even with a knife in my gut, and I’d gone after a maw-mouth to save half the freshmen instead of running away, and meanwhile Magnus had tried to murder me because Orion liked me, and Todd had destroyed Mika because he was scared, and because I had that answer, I couldn’t help thinking actually I did deserve to live more than them. And I know nobody gets to live or not live because they deserve it, deserving doesn’t count for a thing, but the point was, I now felt deep in my heart that I was in fact a better human being than Magnus or Todd, and hooray, all the prizes for me, but that wasn’t helpful when what I actually needed was reasons why I shouldn’t just wipe them out of existence. (c)

Anger management:
I know how to stop being angry. I’ve been taught any number of ways to manage anger, and they really work. What she’s never been able to teach me is how to want to manage it. So I go on seething and raging and knowing the whole time that it’s my own fault, because I do know how to stop. (c)
“Why are you being this nice?” he said. “Are you mad at me for something?” (c)
We went in for a round of staring around at each other with equal degrees of what sort of moron are you expressions, and then I said, “Does that ever actually work for you?” (c)
I know you’re just waiting for us to put your statue up, but that’s no reason to carry on like a slab of solid rock.” (c)

Another rocking point is how the Scholomance is basically another MC to follow. The School's a living breathing thing with a preference for good vs bad balance and a hunger for particular things. How's that for character dev? Incredible!
If there ever was a competition of most unusual characters, this school would rock the heck out of it.

Uncushy settings:
I stood up and hurled the latest crumbling ancient scroll back into the impenetrable dark on the other side of my desk (c)
What's about her desk?
You’d think that any smell would clear out quickly, since one whole wall of the room is open to the scenic view of a mystical void of darkness, so delightfully like living in a spaceship aimed directly into a black hole, but you’d be wrong. (c)
Now, that's digs to dream of. Maybe as in having nightmares.
I can't decide whether living in such a place would be an agoraphobic experience, claustrophobic or plain delightful? Wouldn't it be like living on a spaceship of sorts? A crazy one but still?
Profile Image for Hamad.
1,007 reviews1,326 followers
October 10, 2020
This Review ✍️ Blog 📖 Twitter 🐦 Instagram 📷

Actual Rating: 2.5 stars

I just went through some reviews before starting this reviews and I am seeing a lot of “I am a big Naomi Novik fan but this was not for me/ DNFed/ not as good as her other books”. Personally, I preferred this over Uprooted and Spinning Silver but I still am giving it 2.5 stars. The book has been the center of a recent drama while I was reading it this week and I will touch upon that in this review a bit.

My biggest problem with Novik’s novel is the writing, I just think her prose is very over descriptive, boring and suffocating. It needs effort to go through her books which makes reading them more of a chore which means an instant DNF for me these days. This novel had a better writing and I decided to give the author a 3rd chance -Which I never do- because my bookish friends insisted that it sounds good and that her books are fun to read.

The book does sound good and it has a very intriguing synopsis but I think we have very mediocre/ weak execution here which I find surprising for an author who has been doing this for years. The book basically revolves around a magical school where students go to study without teachers and learn to protect themselves from all kind of creatures that want to kill them. I am not gonna compare this to HP because not every magical school novel should be automatically compared to HP and because Rowling does not have the copyrights for this kind of stories and there have been magical schools and will always be in stories. But what I am gonna say is that I am a big fan of the school trope and that’s the main reason I decided to give this a chance. This year I have read some great magical school books -not intentionally- including The Name of the Wind, Ink and Bone, Master of Sorrows. I even recently finished Once and Future Witches which does not have a magical school but has plenty of magic. This was very meh compared to that for many reasons including characterization, plot, and world-building as I am explaining next.

“You know, it’s almost impressive,” he said after a moment, sounding less wobbly. “You’re nearly dead and you’re still the rudest person I’ve ever met. You’re welcome again, by the way.”

Our main character Galadriel or El (I am gonna use El in the rest of this review) is a very unlikable character and I have always said that some people are rude and unlikable in real life so I can expect to see them in stories. The problem with El is that she insists on being rude and unlikable throughout the story, characters deserve to grow hrough the story and maybe if she was improving then that would have redeemed her as slightly more likable but hell no, she thinks she is so special and she keeps talking about her super dark powers but it is all talk. And speaking of talking, I think this books suffer from telling rather than showing and this is not exclusive to the characters but also world-building. The rest of the characters are flat too so I know I will have forgotten everyone comes next weekend. The controversy surrounding the book was mostly about the characters and how the represnetation is bad and hurtful for some readers. I think people exaggerated and I did not feel much about the characters anyway because as I said above they were flat. This is very subjective and I am someone who hardly is offended by this kind of things so I can’t say that I found it offending. At the same time, different readers process books differenlty and to each their own, if you think this is racist/ has microaggressions or is not for youu then please saty away from it.

“Or if you’re me, you can suck the life force out of a dozen kids and then incinerate half the school with you inside it. So helpful!”

Here is El telling us about how powerful she is again. Yet the whole time I was reading this, I wish that I felt that. Whenever she was in trouble, she would get confused and nervous, cast a spell that apparently does nothing at first and then the monster suddenly dies!


This telling extends to the spells which is supposed to be the exciting part of the book, but the whole professor-less thing did not work out very well because classes and the teacher-student dynamic are very important in this type of stories and it was absent here. I still don’t understand what is the point of the school then and although it was explained a couple of times in the story, I was not convinced. Here is an explanation of a spell and I don’t know why a one or two words incantation is not enough these days!

“Clarita’s shield spell was fundamentally designed to be cast by multiple people, to cover a group. It wove between English and Spanish, and read almost like a song, or a play with different roles for each caster: there were lines and verses that we could cast either solo or together, chaining them together one after another, so we could all take a breather now and then, and the lines weren’t even nailed down-”

At the beginning I think the book had potential but the more I read, the more problems I could spot and the less excited I was. At the end I was reading and skimming because I reached the place where I just wanted to finish. The book did end up in a cliffhanger and I want to know what happens but I think I will ask one of my friends to spoil it for me because I won’t be continuing this series unfortunately.

Summary: A story with a good potential but bad execution. The characters were flat, there was a lot of telling rather than showing and I kind of lost interest toward the end of the book. If you are a Novik fan then definitely read this but if you are not like me, then this won’t change much.

You can get more books from Book Depository
Profile Image for myo ✧༺ ༘♡ ༻∞.
740 reviews6,438 followers
June 8, 2021
Omg i had so much fun reading this! I mean, of course i did. it’s dark academia. I enjoyed this world so much. This book in particular did have a lot of world building but i didn’t mind because there were so many things i found cool. For Example the moving stairs you couldn’t be on after classes because you don’t know where you’ll end up or the fact that you can’t be in your room after curfew. Also, these kids were crazy as hell and literally was trying to kill the main character El.

I know a lot of people don’t like El but i personally loved her. I feel like i really understand her and maybe that’s because i see myself in her? She’s so stubborn and i love the fact that she was a boss bitch. She was so smart and came up with things i probably would’ve never thought of.

I really loved the romance as well. Orion is such an interesting character and the fact that he was always saving El was so funny to me. Their romance kind of gave off grumpy x sunshine vibes. El being the grumpy and Orion being the sunshine. He was such a golden boy but the fact that they understood each other and related to each other was so sweet.

I also really enjoyed the writing. I need to check out some of Novik’s other books because the writing in this one was so amazing.

This book was so great and i honestly can’t wait until the next book. Especially after that ending? i need the second book like yesterday!
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
August 29, 2021
$1.99 Kindle sale, August 29, 2021. I was a bit on the fence with this first book, but I have to say that I really loved the second one, so overall this fantasy series gets a strong thumbs up from me, so far.

Review first posted on FantasyLiterature.com:

The Scholomance: It’s kind of like a semi-sentient Hogwarts with extra teeth (actually, more like a mouth bristling with razor-sharp fangs), no teachers, really brutal cliques, and an out-of-control infestation of all sorts of magical monsters (called maleficers or “mals”), large and small, that want nothing more than to eat the students. Many years ago a group of wizards banded together to build the Scholomance to give their children a better chance at surviving adolescence. The Scholomance blocks out most of mals, but enough manage to slip in that the body count at the Scholomance is alarmingly high … it’s just better than if the students weren’t at the school.

The worst problem is that the only exit from the school is through a hall where the largest infestation of mals exists, a whole menagerie of monsters lying in wait to eat the majority of graduating seniors. Years ago, Galadriel’s own father died during the graduating seniors’ mass exist from the school, protecting his girlfriend, who was pregnant with El at the time. Now El is at the Scholomance herself, a third-year student doing her best to stay alive. She’s a loner, angry and resentful of everyone around her — especially Orion Lake, a privileged and popular student whose life mission seems to be protecting other students from being killed by mals. El just wants Orion to leave her alone; his constant white knighting is making her look incompetent to other students, decreasing her chances of being able to join one of the better alliances of students, who protect each other during the graduation exit when they’re running the gauntlet of mals.

El is actually a superior magician, but no one else at the Scholomance knows it; she’s been hiding her talent, hoping to dazzle her classmates into asking her to join an alliance, but also because El’s particular magical affinity is for murder and mass destruction. When Orion stubbornly refuses to leave El alone, she decides to pretend to be his girlfriend in order to leverage his popularity to get a good alliance offer. The problem is, El is so brimming with anger and resentment that she can’t resist making rude comments to all of her classmates that she’s supposed to be schmoozing up to.

I’m a big Naomi Novik fan after reading Uprooted and especially Spinning Silver, but I was dubious about A Deadly Education for the first several chapters. There’s a lot of initial info-dumping to absorb here, and El, who narrates this story, is a hard main character to warm up to. She’s defined chiefly by her snark, her anger, and her unwanted affinity for mass destruction spells. She also is frequently her own worst enemy, driving others away when it would clearly benefit her — and wouldn’t really be all that difficult — to just play nice. Main characters who are prickly and rude to others and who shoot themselves in the foot with their own decisions are a hard type for me to enjoy. (I like the secret mastermind type characters far better.)

But eventually it occurred to me how brilliant Novik is to have created a character whose natural talent is mass murder and destruction, but to have that offset by the way her sweet, open-hearted white witch mother raised her. These two opposing factors, nature vs. nurture, create a major tension within El’s character, making her an unusually interesting person to me as I got more into the book, and by the end I was fully on board with her character. Orion isn’t just a hero; he has his own issues, and the friendship (and perhaps more) between him and El has a tough road to travel.

While the Scholomance has a worldwide, highly diverse student body, the handling of this diversity is on the shallower end of the pool. I didn’t really get much of a feel for their different cultures, including El’s half-Indian heritage. Other than that, though, there are an abundance of marvelous details in the worldbuilding. El’s focus on language and linguistics plays a major role in the way her magical talents develop, and there are magical drawbacks to learning new languages as well as benefits. The benefits of wealth and social status are shown very clearly in who thrives in the Scholomance, or even just survives. The metaphor for our own society isn’t subtle, but it does play out in a realistic way.

A Deadly Education is an intriguing twist on the magic school genre and a solid beginning for THE SCHOLOMANCE trilogy. I’m excited for when the next book, The Last Graduate, comes out in 2021.

Initial comments: I'm sold! After Uprooted and especially Spinning Silver, I'll read pretty much anything by Naomi Novik.
Currently reading
October 10, 2022

I feel like I don't get ARCs because people think I'm mean. I'm NOT mean. I'm just honest. If I tell you I love your book, I freaking love your book. And if I tell you that I don't like it, it's because I want you to do better. LOL. I'm basically the tough love mom on Goodreads who isn't afraid to tell you not to go out like that.
Profile Image for Danielle.
805 reviews401 followers
February 28, 2021
Note: I received a free copy of A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik in exchange for my honest review.

I’m surprised by how much I liked this book. It has a very dark Hogwarts type feel, but with way more monsters and death. 🙃 I enjoyed the hate/love relationships between El and well... pretty much everyone. 😜 And sweet Orion is the golden retriever who you just have to love ❤️ I’ll be looking forward to reading that sequel! Update: I’m having dreams about this world and am still thinking about it... I had to come back and update my review and add a star! Cause any book that stays in my head like this, deserves the coveted five star! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Thank you @goodreads @naominovik and @randomhouse #goodreadsgiveaway
Profile Image for Samantha.
416 reviews16.7k followers
October 13, 2020
3.75 stars

Before I outline my thoughts on this book, if you’ve missed it, please read some reviews from BIPOC reviewers in response to some of the missteps about race in this book. I read reviews from both sides before deciding to proceed with reading it myself as planned. My review will not speak on any of the accusations against this book, as it is not my place to say whether something is harmful to a marginalized group that I am not a part of. Based on what I read from reviewers, the missteps in this book seem to be largely subjective as there is a context to the world building for a lot of lines that can appear problematic when taken out of context (which is true of nearly any piece of media). Please read reviews, as there are many very detailed ones outlining each piece of the discussion, and decide how you wish to proceed. Here are two very detailed reviews from both sides but there are many more out there:



This is our House Salt Book Club pick for the month so we will be discussing not only the book but all the controversy around it on my channel on Halloween!

Now… onto the actual review:

This book takes place in a magical school that is actively trying to kill its students. I say school but it’s more like a 4 year independent-study program as there are no teachers and the school is CHAOTIC. The school has monsters of all kinds of varieties (monsters that live in the bathroom and prevent the students from being able to safely shower, things that creep under their doors at night so they have to set magical trip wires, monsters that hide in their food, and any other variety of ways to be killed suddenly). Our main character is an outcast who begrudgingly ends up spending more time around the “school hero” who has managed to save her life numerous times, and we follow her during Junior year.

The best part of the book really is the world building. It’s incredibly atmospheric with all the monsters, the school set in a literal magical void, and with the way the school operates. You as a reader truly get a sense of how stressful it would be. This is also one of those magic systems (similar to Name of the Wind) where magic is actually pretty difficult and you get a feeling about how hard it is to learn and survive.

As far as the characters, it did take some time for me to warm up to them. El did grow on me pretty quickly as a grumpy protagonist, but as she is an outsider for most of the book, we don’t get a sense of some of the other characters personality wise until almost the end of this first book. But what we have seen so far is promising, especially as far as friendship dynamics go, so I am intrigued for what this set up.

Speaking of set up, this is largely a foundational book as most books in fantasy series are. This is mostly an introduction to the setting and how magic works, with some character backgrounds and dynamics that will obviously be built on throughout the series. It’s a quick and engaging read, as you are left constantly wondering how the school is going to try to kill them next. I will likely continue on with this series.
Profile Image for Nicole.
731 reviews1,829 followers
January 28, 2021
Yesterday, I started writing this book's review:
I enjoyed this book more than I expected. I have read Uprooted and loved it (back when it was still cool to like this book), I found Spinning Silver okay and dnf the first Temeraire book, in fact, it was my only dnf this year (I was so bored but I loved the dragon). So I thought maybe my taste changed across the years and Naomi’s books aren’t for me anymore. Glad I was wrong.
*throws it in the bin*

I originally gave this book 4 stars. I did not write a review right away because I knew Naomi received lots of criticism claiming she was being racist in this book. I wanted to review people’s notes to be able to judge for myself because sometimes -let’s face it, the black witch- reviews are partially unfair.

But then I read this now (somehow while reading the book I skipped this sentence was probably distracted or so)

“Predictably, an Arabic worksheet appeared on my desk the instant I sat down that morning. There wasn’t a single word of English on it; the school didn’t even give me a dictionary. And judging by the cheery cartoonish illustrations next to the lines—most notably a man in a car about to mow down a couple of hapless pedestrians—I had the strong suspicion that it was modern Arabic, too. I should’ve got a book on Classical Arabic out of the library before going to class.”

To give some context, El, the heroine, was studying the Arabic language for the first time. She has a dark affinity to magic so the school is always showing her dark and violent spells. The fact that the other Arab character, Ibrahim, is annoying af and follows the American Orion like a puppy didn't help either. If the Middle Eastern Arabs were portrayed in a positive way (anything and no, having a powerful enclave doesn't count), it would've been fine with. We were not.

Her apology on twitter -while better than nothing- is not enough.

God, I’m so done. I’m so so so fed up with people claiming Arabic speakers are terrorists. We lived in fucking fear from Al Qaeda and ISIS. WHO BTW HAD RECRUITS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD INCLUDING UK AUSTRALIA CANADA. AND HEY? LET'S NOT START TALKING ABOUT WHO FINANCED THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE. You don't actually think they bought all these arms from their money, right? right.

So yeah I’m feeling quite mad right now.

Someone said bismillah during one of the videos of the Beirut blast and western people started thinking it was a terrorist attack while the guy simply meant in God’s name (this expression basically means omg). Please educate yourselves. We are disgusted by those terrorists who killed more of us, people living in the Middle East, than abroad.

I wanted to praise this book. I was ready to and was even thinking of defending Naomi (the irony), it was fun although it had one of the worst info dump I’ve read in a very long time. But I had enjoyed reading it, I liked the characters. I wanted to read the next book ASAP. It also ended on a high note, not a cliffhanger but enough to want me to read the sequel.

I don’t know what to think now. I’m very heartbroken.

One would think by now I should be used to western views of us, those living in the Middle East. We speak Arabic so we must be terrorists. They know shit about us. But no, they want to be smart about it. Unacceptable really.

If you don't agree with me please read the comments, if you still don't agree but going to repeat something that was already brought up, I won't reply.
Profile Image for sarah.
391 reviews262 followers
September 26, 2020
dark academia + magic + monsters = a deadly education

Naomi Novik takes the overdone concept of a magic school and refreshes it with darkness, a diverse cast and unique world building. If you are looking for a book to serve all the Slytherin vibes- complete with an unlikeable mc and twisting political alliances- look no further.

The school in a deadly education is truly what the title suggests- deadly. When there are monsters lurking around every corner, you need to be 10 steps ahead at all times. How are you going to get to breakfast? Who are you going to sit with? Navigating the complicated social hierarchy of high school suddenly becomes a matter of literal life or death. As a result, there is a vague undercurrent of anxiety and foreboding through the whole book, which both unsettled me and forced me to keep reading.

My favourite part of this book was undoubtably the world building. A common complaint I have heard is of the often unnecessary info-dumps. I didn't mind them, because the world Novik has created is so intricate and calculated that I loved learning more about it. I also didn't mind because I liked the voice of our main character with her sarcasm and dry humour. If you enjoyed the footnotes in Nevernight, I think you have a greater chance of liking them, and probably vice-versa.

However, while I liked learning about the world and the concepts explored, I didn't feel that spark that makes me invested in the story. I was overall left feeling lukewarm about the characters, plot and writing. There was nothing done wrong per se, but nothing I felt to be outstanding either.

I also felt it to be a little juvenile at times. I am not sure if it is the marketing or my own misplaced expectations, but I thought this would fall more on the adult fantasy side. Instead, the inner monologues felt almost silly at times. For a school full of students whose only options are to graduate or die, I felt like they weren't as mature as I would expect and instead were overly fixated on frivolous and petty ideas. That's not necessarily a bad thing, just a side effect of it being a slightly different age range than I had hoped. I am pretty sure that this issue won't be present in Spinning Silver or Uprooted, both adult as far as I am aware, so now I am even more excited to try them!

I have a feeling that this will be a very divisive and polarising book, but I found myself falling towards the middle in terms of enjoyment. I definitely had more positive feelings than otherwise, and so I am looking forward to seeing how the story progresses in the rest of the series. I would hesitantly recommend it, but only to specific people as I can definitely see how this wouldn't work for some. If you have read this, I would be really interested to see what you thought of it!

★★★☆☆.5 stars

Thank you to Random House UK for this ARC!

Release Date: 29 September 2020
Profile Image for Emma☀️.
332 reviews325 followers
March 18, 2021
1.5 stars
Wow okay, I did not enjoy this. There were too many info dumps and I wasn’t a fan of the “rambling” and textbook-like writing style. It took me right out of the story.
Being inside El’s head was grating because she would constantly berate Orion and the things around her. Her internal thoughts, however, were witty and entertaining - so I give her that.

Another reason why I did not like this was that the plot had no sense of direction and I was so bored throughout. Initially, I was totally down for the premise. It was interesting and new. I mean, who doesn’t want to read about a deadly school filled with monsters set out to kill you? Unfortunately, the execution fell flat. Nothing really happens until the last 20% and by then, I had already given up trying to engage with the book.

In conclusion:
Profile Image for kate.
1,146 reviews924 followers
September 27, 2020
Well, one of my most highly anticipated 2020 releases is officially now my most disappointing read of the year so far *cue sad violin music*

This book had so much potential and yet it missed every mark for me.

The story itself could have been something really great but, for me, it was let down in all aspects by the writing and execution. The characters all fell flat and despite a large cast, the MC was the only character with any defining characteristics. The relationships were subpar and pretty much non-existent and whilst the world building and magic system were interesting, they both felt pretty lacklustre.

However, what let it down the most for me was the writing itself. The sentence structure and grammar throughout just felt... off? I don’t know how else to describe it. It felt messy and as though it was yet to go through an editor. This may totally be on me but I didn’t get on with it at all unfortunately.

Overall, whilst I have a feeling I may be in the minority for this (maybe myself and novik’s writing style don’t mix and that’s okay?) I sadly found this book to be dull and disappointing (it kills me to say this.) I was so close to DNF’ing almost every time I picked it up but because I’d been so looking forward to it, I was desperate to like it and unable to give up on it changing my mind.

That being said, I’m sure this is going to be a fabulous reading experience for many people but it very much wasn’t for me unfortunately.
Profile Image for Navessa.
Author 10 books7,510 followers
February 20, 2021
Yes, I am aware of the controversy surrounding parts of this book. Novik apologized with great feeling for her mistakes, so I decided to read this, and I am so, so happy I did. This female lead is one of my all-time favorites. Her grumpiness is everything.


The dreadlock paragraph is atrocious and definitely needed to be addressed and I'm glad it's being fixed in later editions.

As for the languages as magic and some of the other issues some readers had, I did read a lot of reviews after finishing this, from reviewers who know much more about these topics than myself - native speakers of said languages, people who live in the countries in question or are of those cultures or are historians - and while there were several who had problems with some of the portrayals, many others didn't.

I guess what I'm trying to say is read the book or don't based on your own research. Also, I don't know who needs to hear this, but it's okay to like problematic fiction, and authors, and tropes, etc. Does that mean that you should rush out and tell the world to read and love it like you did? Probably not, but if you yourself loved it, I don't see the problem as long as you look at it with eyes wide open and recognize and address its problematic elements when speaking about it.
Profile Image for Becca & The Books.
312 reviews6,315 followers
October 20, 2020
Usually when I rate a book 3 stars it's either because I liked it but didn't think it was anything special, or I'm super ambivalent about it. Neither of these are the case for A Deadly Education.

I adored and despised this book in equal measure.

I loved the character of El. She's snarky, defensive and downright hostile and I swear I've never related to a character more. The way she is just so done with The Scholomance and all of the obstacles it throws in her path were hilarious to read.
Orion is the floppy eared, dumb af puppy you can't help but love, and I also enjoyed the supporting cast in this book.
The writing came through at points, making me laugh out loud "Reader, I ran the fuck away." being one of my favourite quotes.

I hated the endless amounts of exposition. They were distracting and unnecessarily complex. While I love me some world-building and don't mind an info dump, I found the frequency at which random chunks of information was given to the reader to be very distracting, and so often that I wasn't actually getting the points Naomi Novik was trying to make as it was all just a bit too much. The lengthy nature of these info dumps often meant that I was distracted from the story and couldn't remember what was going on by the time we actually got back to the main narrative. They were also told in a conversational manner, like El was halting the story to impart information to the reader and as a personal preference, I'm not a big fan of that kind of storytelling.

That being said, this book ended on a massive "Oh Shit" moment so I can't wait to continue the series.
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books430 followers
February 6, 2022
“Reader, I ran the fuck away.”

A Deadly Education is quite a departure from Novik’s second-most recent book Spinning Silver, which I read a couple of years ago and loved. I have a lot of respect for an author who can be so versatile, and I can honestly say that I’ve never read anything quite like it before.

I love the idea of the Scholomance itself - how it functions like a malignant organism, trying to destroy, manipulate and devour its students. There are so many wonderful descriptions in the book, from the endless procession of disgusting mals to the darkly comedic quirks of magic like the prophesying mirror that gleefully predicts gruesome deaths and a rare book that needs to be stroked and pampered. It’s a book that’s dripping with character and malevolent atmosphere.

The book’s protagonist is another strength. El is abrasive, prickly, rude and vaguely outraged to discover that she does in fact have morals. She begrudgingly decides not to use malia and to save a freshman from a horrific mal, and I also admire how her sense of justice and integrity keeps her from playing political games with the enclave system like all the other students. Her narrative voice is snarky but not overbearingly or annoyingly so, and I also appreciated her exasperated relationship with school hero Orion. She finds him infuriating because of how oblivious he is but she is determined to treat him like a real person unlike many others, which in turn makes Orion want to befriend her.

Speaking of that, I love that the book generally follows the process of things getting better for El - she makes alliances and friends, finds an incredibly valuable book and makes the dire and unjust situation in the Scholomance better for everyone else. While the overall trajectory is satisfying to me, I will say that the book has a VERY slow start with a great deal of exposition and very little actually happening in the story. Once more action started to balance out the info-dumping I found A Deadly Education to be a lot more enjoyable.

I do feel obligated to touch on the controversy surrounding the book, which in this case has to do with its treatment of characters of color. Most prominently there is the fact that Novik wrote a brief description of a kind of a little mal that thrives in dreadlocks, which readers deemed a poor choice because of the racist connotations implying that black hairstyles are dirty or unsanitary. Novik publicly apologized for this content and ensured that future printings would not feature this paragraph; my Kindle copy did not feature it.

Other than that, I have read other reviews discussing El’s characterization as a biracial half-Indian girl. Principally, the criticism is that El is not connected at all to her Indian heritage and is therefore whitewashed. Cindy's video discusses this issue with some nuance, but what I’ll point out here is that in the video Cindy spoke to the experience of being a woman of color who did not have a connection to her culture. Other people of color commenting on that video largely seemed to feel that it isn’t necessarily inherently racist to write about a diasporic person of color who doesn’t have a connection to her heritage because that lack of cultural connection is often a product of diaspora, and that El’s experience in this regard reflects their own. I’m also wondering if Novik would have gotten criticism if she had indeed written El as a half-Indian woman who is super in touch with her culture - would that be seen as a white author overstepping her bounds by writing from a culture/identity that is not her own? I don’t want to dismiss the feelings of readers who disagree - just provide the perspectives of people who didn’t feel the same way.
(Edit: I just watched Cindy’s video again and one commenter pointed out that El actually knows Marathi and Sanskrit, the first being a language from where her father is from and the second being a mother language for many Indian languages.)

I also saw a couple of reviews that discussed the fact that El mentions not showering very often, and linking this back to racist stereotypes about Indian people being unhygienic. I think in this case it’s a question of which context matters more to a particular reader - the story’s context that El is a loner at the Scholomance and doesn’t have anyone to watch her back so it’s dangerous for her to use the showers by herself, or the context of a racist stereotype. In my view, I’d find this more troublesome if El’s hygiene was tied to her race or something inherent about her as a person in the text; instead I think the book makes it clear that it’s because of the dangerous circumstances she is living in. In fact, you could actually make the argument that El not taking showers very often actually says something positive about her because it shows her integrity in refusing to play by the rules of the unjust enclave system.

Anyways, these are just my thoughts about some of the criticisms that have been raised and I respect anyone who feels differently. I’d encourage readers to peruse a variety of views to see what resonates the most personally. As for me, I’ll be mulling over that stunner of a cliffhanger and looking forward to The Last Graduate while hoping it features a little less exposition.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,962 followers
November 6, 2020
There's some call to name this the slightly more hardcore magic successor of Harry Potter, but I personally like to think of it as an overpowered destruction-magic teen just trying to deny her heritage while going to school in a void-enhanced pocket universe Hogwarts that doesn't mind killing a vast portion of its students for the sake of keeping them in line.

Oh, and there aren't any teachers. Spells are learned directly from the void and the intelligent library and clans.

For me, I fell HARD into this tale and got snappy with the people in my life when they wanted me to pay attention to them when I really wanted to focus on THIS TALE.

I loved it. It was wild, very YA, but also all those no-holds-barred tropes that make me tumble in love. You know, like saying screw all the cliques, going total nonconformist, feeling that vast loneliness, and yet -- somehow -- making really good friends. Old stuff, but I honestly fell entirely under its spell. No icky stuff. Just pure-fun. I was reminded a bit of a mix between Hogwarts and Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children in a really good way.

And now I honestly can't wait for the next book in the series.
Profile Image for NickReads.
461 reviews1,199 followers
Want to read
May 14, 2020
Sabrina Spellman?
Displaying 1 - 30 of 19,470 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.