After a month of this torture… I finally finished A Deadly Education! Finally, I’m able to write a (very long) book review. Honestly, I would have rated this book even lower if not for the cliffhanger ending. Also, did you know that Naomi Novik founded/helped found AO3? AO3 has some of the best writing I’ve read, but this book… it ain’t it.
Title: A Deadly Education
Author: Naomi Novik
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2/5)
Synopsis: Lesson One of the Scholomance: Learning has never been this deadly.
A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.
There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.
El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.
The only reason why I kept reading was Orion Lake. Orion is the definition of a golden retriever boy, and I just want to give him a big hug because he deserves it!! This boy goes around saving other people from monsters because that’s the only thing he’s good at, and everyone acts so superficial to him (lowkey worshipping,, kinda creepy) so he feels alone, even when he in a big group. But then he’s still so kind to everyone, especially El (who REALLY was not deserving of his kindness). Speaking of El, I really strongly dislike her character. She’s “quirky” for the sake of being quirky, and acts like a depressed alt girl for NO REASON WHATSOEVER. The entire book is told in her perspective, and it’s just her complaining about everything that happens and how she is sO uNfoRtUnaTe to not be invited into an enclave, while DISSING ENCLAVE PEOPLE WITH HER EVERY BREATH. Girl, if you want to get into an enclave then maybe you should ACT like you like them, when they try to interact with you?? Her acting skills really ain’t great.
Let’s talk about their relationship. Orion enters the book by saving El from a mal (basically monsters in this book) and El gets mad at him, because he ruined her door. I sympathise with El in this one, but only this one, because Orion is out there chasing monsters for no reason, and he did ruin her room. But then he offers to help her fix it, and El accepts his help, but is still so b!tchy about everything? After that, they develop a grudging friendship-of-sorts, which basically consists of Orion saving El’s life while they do mundane tasks, El gets mad at him, Orion apologizes, and the cycle repeats again. I still don’t understand why El can’t just take the help gratefully, since she’s always complaining about the mals and how dangerous they are?? This girl needs to get her big ego in check. Especially since she’s apparently tHe MoSt PoWeRfUL student, but she can’t do anything simple because all her spells are meant for great destruction (which is then never mentioned later? It’s not even a plot point that she can do major damage, since she never does it out of the goodness of her heart. And her mom is the smartest witch/whatever they’re called to exist, since she made some cool mana(energy)-holder crystals, but again, El doesn’t even think of flexing that to get an alliance? THIS GIRL IS LOWKEY DUMB. I think staying ALIVE without much effort would trump her need for independence?? But anyways, I’m getting off track. the point I was originally going to prove is that Orion has no reason to stay with El, especially she uses him for the fake dating drama. Not once do they address it until the very end, and it was not really connected with the rest of the plot? The book would have functioned the same if they were just reluctant friends and allies, and never in a relationship. Especially since THEY DON’T HAVE ANY CHEMISTRY!! NONE AT ALL!! Orion just wants someone to treat him like a normal person, so he latches onto El, the only person who would do that. El just wants to use him as a prop i guess?? Why did they kiss at the end. I AM SO OUT OF WORDS SINCE THEIR ROMANCE WAS SO UNDERDEVELOPED??
Also, i guess I liked seeing the racially diverse cast in this book. Kinda wacky how there are 1000+ kids in each grade, in a school with no teachers and monsters everywhere? The logistics just… don’t work out, but I’ll be further elaborating on that later. For now, let’s talk about the compulsory racial stereotyping. El is biracial (Caucasian and South Asian) but she is estranged from the Indian side of her family, so she acts pretty white. I understand that, and I think it was done deliberately to show how she doesn’t connect with her culture a lot. But also, she just calls other students by their race? Like, she doesn’t even TRY to know someone’s name, she just refers to them as “the Chinese boy” or “the Brazilian girl” and that makes me a bit uncomfy, especially when the students have been at the same school for 3 years already. Now, I understand that there are a LOT of students and it’s impractical to know all their names when they could die the next day, but if Orion can learn most of their names, why can’t El even try? Sure, it’s all in her nonchalant character traits, but she also lowkey racially stereotypes them so… Yikes. And this is not mentioning how there was a paragraph in which she basically says that dreadlocks are dirty and can get infested by mals, but Naomi Novik addressed that already, and she said that it will be taken out of all future publications. In short, I just don’t think this international vibe was established correctly, and it was used purely for a plot point, in order to have the “studying languages gives you different spells” subplot.
Plot & Writing Style
Okay, let’s talk more about what I despised from this book: The writing style. The plot. Perhaps the entire book, honestly.
- Info dumping
At this point, I’m convinced that Naomi Novik wrote this on a dare, since THE BOOK WAS MAKING STUFF UP AS IT WENT. Info dumping happened IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CLIMAX. Literally, they were in the middle of a battle, and this lady thinks it’s the perfect time to go on a page-long rant about the specific kind of mal they were fighting, and El’s backstory? SHOULDN’T THIS HAVE BEEN MENTIONED MAAANY CHAPTERS AGO? I’m not sure if this is just her writing style, but I despise it vehemently. I’d like to know what’s going on from the start, not being made up as things happen for the plot convenience xx
- Train of thought
This entire book is El’s internal monologue with minimal dialogues, and a lot of angsty teenage complaining. I’m the same age as her, and I’d like to think that I don’t complain half as much. She walks somewhere? She complains. She eats food? She complains. She GOES TO BED WHILE ORION WATCHES OUT FOR MALS SO SHE DOESN’T DIE? Yep, more complaining. Excuse me what??? And all the run-on sentences… I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY THIS BOOK WAS NOT EDITED FURTHER. Is this a specific writing style that I just didn’t know about, where the main character goes on a rant for 336 pages?
- Second person POV
I- I can’t even. The book LITERALLY SAYS, “Reader, […]” in the last 10% and I CAN’T DEAL WITH THAT. In a full book of first person POV, suddenly it’s an open letter to the reader? Where is El writing this? When? Why? We get no other information. I was fine with the second person perspective in the book The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. because it was literally a letter to whoever was reading, but this clearly wasn’t structured to be one.
- The pacing
Am I the only one who had trouble staying awake through the book? Because the chapters were super long, and nothing substantial happens in over half of them. It’s just the same thing: Orion and El argue, El complains, Orion fights some monsters, El disses some enclave kids, the side characters show up for their mandatory “we support El” speech. Rinse and repeat. Where is the variety? It gets kinda old after a while, y’know…
I have no idea what Naomi Novik was trying to accomplish with the Hogwarts-comparable setting. The Scholomance is just Hogwarts, but making even less sense. There are no adults in this place, and somehow 5000+ kids are supposed to manage themselves, in a giant school filled with monsters and other deadly things? Where are the cooks, or does the food just magically appear on the table? Why do the staircases just move for no purpose? At this point, I am sure that nothing has a purpose in this book, they’re just all added to provide the mandatory suspense and disbelief at this horrible system that’s supposed to keep kids safe. Ah, so by stuffing all the kids into one place should be safer than when they’re with their parents, but somehow having 2 kids in a room makes it monster bait? And also, the affinity thing definitely makes no sense, because El is supposedly good at destruction, but she’s doing the language track and has barely any useful spells, and somehow still survives just fine. She can’t even clean her room without setting fire to everything?? And Orion just.. repels monsters, I guess. But he’s also really good at spellwork? And everyone else just exists and El doesn’t mention anyone else with an affinity for special things like Orion and herself, so are we just supposed to believe that they’re the only ones with special affinities? And with the whole bad wizard thing (maleficers? i don’t even remember at this point), that plotline ran dry so fast. They had NO PART in the book aside from that one guy who tried to kill El. And the other students literally don’t care that there are KNOWN EVIL PEOPLE among them who like to suck up other people’s mana? Alright then…
I’ve seen people raving about how this is such a detailed and original fantasy world. Original, i’ll give it that. But detailed? I DO NOT KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON. NOTHING. There are random details that are wholly unneeded and contribute nothing to the story. If anything, this book is overly detailed while not even having a basic structure. The main characters are pretty much invincible to the various things they should have died from, but they stay alive because PLOT CONVENIENCE and pure luck! El manages to insult all the powerful students but nobody actively tries to retaliate because they have better morals! And El’s mother is literally famous for being good at magic-y things, but she still gives away things for free and lives an unknown life in a hippie commune and somehow no magical people tried to kidnap them for her mom’s skills? Sounds fake…
This book makes no sense, is super slow, and I have learned no lesson and gained no wisdom after reading it. To all the people calling it the next Harry Potter: What??? And to all the people calling it a dark academia masterpiece: WHAT??? I guess I just have really specific taste, and it sure ain’t this.
- Have you read A Deadly Education? If so, what did you think about it?