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Book Review: “A Deadly Education” gives new meaning to “school is killing me”

If the Harry Potter series was darker and murderous, it would look something like Naomi Novik’s 2020 fantasy novel “A Deadly Education.”

Set against the Scholomance boarding school that literally tries to kill its students, cynical Galadriel “El '' Higgins the resident loser of her class. Her magical affinity for apocalyptic-level destruction isn't well-suited for the social hierarchy of the Scholomance and it doesn’t help that she attracts monsters (or maleficaria) wherever she goes.

Rather than be killed by the school, monsters or her fellow students, El vows to make alliances with other students and stockpile her energy to get out of the school as quickly as possible.

Her plans come crashing down when fellow, heroic student Orion Lake saves her and mistakenly screws up the monster-school balance in the process. El and Orion relunctantly strike up an alliance to save themselves and their classmates before the school literally kills them.

Like so many other readers, I adore the enemies-to-lovers trope and Novik flawlessly indulges readers with El and Orion’s relationship. The push-and-pull dynamic between the two characters is hysterical at times, with both trying and failing to hide their feelings for one another. Their banter and melodramtics are a highlight of the novel, and by the end you’ll be screaming, “Can you two just be together already?!”

In comparison to Novik’s previous work, I was disappointed in the narrative style of “A Deadly Education.” In her wildly praised novels “Uprooted” and “Spinning Silver,” Novik’s writing is something of a masterpiece; intricate descriptions and incredible character arcs are enviable to the average writer and exemplify the magic of diving into one of her novels.

But “A Deadly Education” falls short of those beauties. The novel is entirely in El’s point of view, making for interesting commentary, but also becoming very long info dumps and streams of consciousness that could be literally cut down to a few sentences rather than two whole pages worth. Understandably, the first novel is setting the entire trilogy up, but nevertheless, the info dumps made reading “A Deadly Education” arduous and disengaging.

By the time the climax came around, I didn’t even realize it was the climax until after it took place. The info dumping is partially what contributed to the anti-climatic climax—and the rest of the novel falling short of it’s intended dramatics. There was no blood-pumping, what-are-they-going-to-do-next adrenaline that should have occurred during the last third of the book. Rather, it all fell short and only made me want to finish the book quicker.

Nevertheless, Novik’s concept is an interesting spin on the magical boarding school sub-genre and could give Harry Potter a run for it’s money. I can see the novel’s potential further down the series, but for now, I am mildly disappointed at the staleness of it.

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