First sentence: “I decided that Orion needed to die after the second time he saved my life.”
Imagine yourself going to a magic school where there are no teachers and the school is actively trying to kill you. That’s the Scholomance.
Your main goal is to survive until graduation, lest you be food for all the creepy monsters that lurk in the underbelly of the school, picking off unknowing students who don’t have anybody to watch their back in the cafeteria or in the staircase. There’s no teachers, and you learn your magic—whether it’s on the Alchemist track or the language track or wherever—on your own with constant threats to your life if you’re not careful. That sounds intriguing, right?
There are two things I enjoyed about A Deadly Education: the first being how defined Galadriel aka El’s voice is. This character has quite a temper, and is easily irritated. She’d very much like it if Orion Lake, the school’s hero that everybody fawns over‚ can fuck off. She doesn’t want to be part of the gazillion people he has saved (and at that point, he’s saved everybody in the school from monsters); she wants to be known for something that’ll catch people’s attention to want to have her as an ally, not one of Orion’s damsels in distress. I enjoyed her voice because of how irritated and begrudgingly she sound at times. It’s distinct.
Going to a Scholomance is extremely high stakes. El and her fellow schoolmates have to worry about surviving, but also figure out how to get into an enclave—which is like a group of people who will watch your back and build mana (that’s a type of magic) together to use—after graduation.
Her whole exposition can be tiring at times. Readers will learn so much of the this world (like the use of mana vs malia, the different enclaves, and so on) from the history lessons El gives us in frequently odd moments when the sole focus should’ve been describing the scene at hand (like an action scene where El is fighting a monster).
The second thing I enjoyed: A Deadly Education has action-packed scenes. What kept my attention is when those creepy crawlers or maw-mouths revealed itself from the darkness, looking for a good meal in the unsuspecting students milling about in the cafeteria or the hallway. At times, it’s gross and graphic. Their existence is upsetting, but fascinating to see the type of threat they are. I wish there was more descriptions of how these monsters looked and how they moved in detail.
A Deadly Education is not without its issues. It’s kind of boring with nothing as exciting as watching El tell off Orion or El’s fight scenes. The book has an major problem with telling instead of showing, and that has to do the book being written in first person where El is telling us about this world and the people in it. It’s a lot of exposition that can be tedious to get through.
As important as some characters in the book is (like Orion and Aadhya), they weren’t well-rounded characters that exuded chemistry with each other (especially between El and Orion); they only seem to exist to one purpose—Orion as the oblivious jock-like hero who saves everybody or Aadhya as the reluctant ally/friend—to El’s irritable loner. Or to help El in her studies like studying a certain language or walking with her to class for protection. That’s it, no other development whatsoever, which is a major issue when these are BIPOC folx.
Despite the seemingly diverse cast (especially considering El is half Welsh/half Indian), race and culture is treated as unimportant—it’s not discussed even though it’s a heavy part of these characters, the way they use magic, and the hierarchy in the Scholomance. Some exposition is charged with racist microaggressions that are carelessly put into the book for the sake of world building. (You can take a look at what specifically in this Twitter thread.) Novik doesn’t seem to understand race and culture—that is not how you make a book diverse, nor is this how you incorporate it into a book like it’s an afterthought.
A Deadly Education is not as clever or entertaining as I wished it was.
Should you read A Deadly Education? Nah, skip this. If only because the negatives—the insensitivity of race and culture and the info-dumping—do not outweigh the positives. A Deadly Education was hard to go forward because it gets boring with all that exposition. If this was a movie, I would skip to the action scenes because that’s what captured my attention.