A Deadly Education
by Naomi Novik
Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered.
There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal.
Once you’re inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.
El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school’s many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions – never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.
Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying her hardest not to use it… that is, unless she has no other choice.
This is going to be difficult to review but, considering I was in one hell of a reading slump for the first half of this year, that’s to be expected. After all this book isn’t particularly long and it took me over two weeks to finish it. That doesn’t really mean anything – it doesn’t matter how long it takes us to read books – but I’m the kind of reader who can usually get through a book in 2-3 days, so when it takes me 17 days instead I can’t help feeling a little bummed out. Annoyingly I can’t even be certain if the book itself is why it took me so long, or whether it’s this god awful slump I keep getting caught in. But enough of my moping, let’s talk about the book!
I’ve previously read two of Naomi Novik’s adult novels – Uprooted and Spinning Silver – and felt completely different about both of them. Funnily enough Uprooted is another one it took me ages to read, whenever I picked it up I felt like I was wading through treacle, but Spinning Silver is one of my favourite novels and I adored every moment of it. After reading A Deadly Education, Novik’s YA debut, I still can’t be sure Spinning Silver wasn’t a fluke and Novik’s writing doesn’t grab me the majority of the time.
That being said I did enjoy A Deadly Education even though it took me a while to get through it. This is a magic school with no teachers, no twee groundskeepers, no banquets, but a magic school that can and will kill its students given the opportunity. Galadriel Higgins – El, if you please – is one student trying to stay alive, which is made even harder by her inability to form alliances with her fellow students, who she doesn’t like very much. Then golden boy Orion, who has a knack for saving people from the student-eating creatures that plague the school, saves El – not that she’d ever admit that – and refuses to be scared off by El’s spiky attitude, and El finds herself maybe making friends for the first time.
I had no idea what I was going to think of A Deadly Education when I first went into it; given how much I love Spinning Silver I was thrilled when I discovered Novik would be tackling the trope of the magic school in her YA debut, but part of the joy of magic school stories for me is getting to meet the bizarre selection of teachers and watching how children and teenagers cope when they’re both away from their parents and in the presence of magic. Despite this not being the typical magic school, though, I didn’t find myself missing the things I’ve enjoyed from previous magic school stories and I still got attached to El as a protagonist very quickly. Unlike typical protagonists who explore their new magical world with big, bright eyes, El is a rather jaded teenager who’s literally spending her adolescence trying to stay alive long enough to graduate.
Novik spends much of this first novel setting up the world, so much so that the novel in its entirety does read like something of a prologue for the rest of the story. I’m not mad about that, though; even though I didn’t love it as much as I hoped I would, you can colour me intrigued and very ready to find out what happens to El and her allies in the sequel.