Do You Have What It Takes for A Deadly Education?

Book coverI recently gobbled up the most delicious dark fantasy book and had to share! Naomi Novik has already made a name for herself with her Temeraire series, and now has a new series that can briefly be described as the dark side of magical education. Unlike Hogwart’s, the Scholomance in A Deadly Education is a school that exists within the void, has no instructors to watch over the students, and spends most of its time apparently silently laughing as a variety of “mals” (unpleasant magical creatures) try to kill off the thousands of young magicians who are enrolled. These young students are magically inducted their freshman year with only what they can carry on their persons – popped from their world directly into the Scholomance without much warning. Afterwards, their training becomes literally a trial by fire with lessons provided by the school itself, penalties for not completing them, daily dodging of mals, and culminating with a ritual cleansing of the halls each year by mortal flame. Throughout it all, the students must work to form alliances that will help them make it through graduation, which consists of getting through the graduation hall and to the exit gates by dodging a gauntlet of mals that have been collecting there over the past year and who are hungry for a feast.

Galadriel, our protagonist, is a somewhat misathropic young girl who has struggled her whole life. When we meet her, she is beginning a real hate relationship with the school charmer, Orion Lake, who goes around showing off and saving people from mals. This is especially irksome because the use of magic requires mana, which has to be either earned or borrowed. If you’re someone like Galadriel you spend a lot of time finding ways to make mana. If you’re someone like Orion, you have a whole enclave of other magical students with mana aplenty to draw on as you choose. Additionally, there are reasons that saving freshmen from mals doesn’t benefit the rest of the student body, so Galdriel is less than pleased with this Orion dude.

Novik has created a world that absolutely sucked me in. I flew through this book and had so much fun that I’m really looking forward to the next in the series – as well as the third which is forthcoming. Novik excels in creating new worlds that are richly developed and characters that feel real and for whom you can form an attachment. If you like your magical universities with some high stakes and dark undertones, then you won’t be disappointed with this series.

Vintage Horror: Rick Hautala’s Night Stone

Over the pandemic I decided to revisit some of my favorite vintage horror from high school. There were several titles that I remembered as being pretty scary, and a few that I couldn’t even remember the title or author for and had to do a little investigative work to figure it out. One of the latter was Rick Hautala’s Night Stone, which I vaguely remembered as having something to do with stones that a guy would see in his yard when he was dreaming, and as a book that had been creepy enough to kind of stick around in my head over the years. Once I figured out who had written it and the title, I managed to secure a reasonably priced copy online. It even has the original creepy cover that goes between little girl face and skull that I remembered!

Cover of Night Stone

Night Stone has everything: a house deal that seems too good to be true, a creepy haunted doll, a possessed horse, underground terror (that is possibly from a Native American burial ground or sacrificial site), family drama with distracting sexual indiscretions, and some bloody deaths orchestrated by the presence haunting the land.

Don decides to move his family – wife Jan and daughter Beth – out to the country and into an older family-owned house that his sister has been taking care of for years. We learn that his mother hadn’t wanted anyone in the family to live in the house and that his sister hadn’t been able to sell it (never a good sign). Problems start immediately as Beth has some type of seizure as they are driving past the large gateposts of the house, and then escalate when she finds a creepy old doll and becomes obsessed with it. Jan becomes bored with the new situation almost immediately and takes a job waiting tables at a pretty sleazy sounding bar and grill in town, and Don becomes increasingly obsessed with the house and with a large stone that he uncovers in the yard. Archaeologists are called in, additional unsanctioned digging is conducted, weird noises and dreams start taking place, and Beth begins talking to her doll and letting it influence her personality. Beth finally gets the horse she’s been begging for and it turns out to be a nightmare on four legs. And, as we’ve seen before in these cases, Don increasingly becomes more unhinged, and the wheels completely come off of the entire enterprise by the end of the book.

The main things I noticed re-reading this book about 30 years later were that it was a lot more crazy than I had remembered. Dolls always creep me out, but the idea of a girl Beth’s age carrying some monstrosity like this around with her everywhere and whispering to it continuously is just a big “nope” for me. (The doll described in the book looks nothing like the somewhat normal one pictured on the cover, so be fair warned!) Also, the entire horse aspect of the plot was both crazier and sadder than I had remembered. All the girl wanted was a sane horse that she could ride around on the farm, and instead she got Goblin, the horse from hell. Lastly, the size of the huge, sacrificial stone in the front yard that Don keeps digging up, along with the underground tunneling aspects of the story, were parts I had completely forgotten. I am not a big fan of tight, underground places, so this part definitely gave me the creeps.

If you are looking for a vintage horror read that delivers nicely on a lot of the typical tropes we think of from the ’70s and ’80s, then I recommend checking out Night Stone. Rick Hautala has also written some other books and short stories that terrified me over the years, such as Mountain King. He’s definitely a horror author worth checking out!