I 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.