A Deadly Education Review: Dark academia meets magical school

November 5, 2020 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 3 stars, Books, Reviews

A Deadly Education Review: Dark academia meets magical schoolA Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
Series: The Scholomance #1
Published by Del Rey on September 29, 2020
Source: Publisher
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
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From the leading talent in fantasy, a magical coming-of-age trilogy with a hilarious female anti-hero - a darker more intelligent Harry Potter for adults.

In the start of an all-new series, the bestselling author of Uprooted and Spinning Silver introduces you to a dangerous school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death - until one girl begins to rewrite its rules. 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.

Wry, witty, endlessly inventive, and mordantly funny - yet with a true depth and fierce justice at its heart - this enchanting novel reminds us that there are far more important things than mere survival.

A Deadly Education was one of my most highly anticipated reads, being a huge fan of Naomi Novik’s other works, but I was incredibly wary after some early controversy about the text. Featuring a dark magic school filled with witty characters, is this book going to be the next Harry Potter? Or is it going to offer something fresh in terms of fantasy?

Magical school where monsters roam the hallways

While it did give me the dark academia vibes I expected, I kind of wanted a bit…more from the story? El is a nippy, irritable girl who pushes everyone away with her attitude problem, but manages to chase around Orion, her himbo boyfriend who everyone places on a pedestal, trying to resist his charms. And that’s prettty much the plot.

As with any magical school, you’re going to wonder about the teachers, the academia and the social structures, and it was interesting seeing how this one differed to other magical school stories out there. For one, Scholomance is run by an omnipresent source and people just…comply so that they’re not eaten by monsters and they learn spells (through languages) so that there’s more likelihood to survive, but also become a part of an enclave by the end of it all. Monsters roam the hallways of A Deadly Education and it’s up to the students to keep themselves alive.

El is your self-deprecating, powerful magician

Whether you like A Deadly Education or not, will depend a lot on whether the monotonous dialogue told in El’s perspective will be your cup of tea. It’s fairly different to the author’s high fantasy works as she manages to pull off self-deprecating humour in El’s obnoxious, know-it-all tone. In some ways, I found El’s dialogue to be hilariously refreshing, in other ways it just felt like an oversight as we aren’t able to see the world as clearly as we want it (it’s obviously tainted in her world view).

El is mixed race (Indian and Welsh), but she has been conveniently left out of her Father’s side of the family which was a terribly convenient way to skip past any conversations about her heritage. Because that’s certainly not the case – especially with how El discusses how she was raised in a yurt from her hippie Mum’s side of the family.

Racial privilege not explored

My other concern is that within Scholomance, you have a racially diverse cast of students from almost all over the world, and racial prejudice and cultural challenges do not exist here. However, given the most popular enclaves are New York and London, which are a melting pot of cultures, I kind of felt like the students belonging to these enclaves were your typical, rich, privileged families with connections (which is obviously implied as white). Given the amount of detail and care that El painfully goes into describe, from the vending machines within the school to the machinery behind it, the lack of description about privilege and race just felt like a glaring omission. Especially since it implies that you’re all from a level playing field to begin with (which you’re definitely not).

The text could also have done without some of the passages which came across as racially insensitive. Given A Deadly Education did undergo a sensitivity read, it’s surprising to see how these particular scenes made it into the final, published version, but I’m glad to see, as per Naomi Novik’s apology, how some of it will be edited out in future versions.

So should you pick up A Deadly Education? It’s definitely a unique read, featuring a dark school of magic with a witty heroine at its centre, with self-deprecating humour, monsters and mayhem. If it wasn’t for the way race and privilege has been handled in this book, I would probably recommend it more freely, however they couldn’t help but detract from the reading experience. Whether you end up enjoying it will depend on whether El’s monotonous dialogue is for you.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Thanks to Penguin Random House Australia for sending me a review copy of the book!

A Deadly Education is available from Australian bookstores for RRP$32.99 or from The Book Depository.

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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Twitter @happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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4 responses to “A Deadly Education Review: Dark academia meets magical school

  1. Vanessa

    This was a very well-thought out review. I still plan to read Deadly Education. I don’t know a single white author (except Scott Reintgen) who handles race or diversity well. If I have high expectations on that front, I’d have to unhaul 75% of my shelf. That being said, if these authors are going to try it they need to realize they WILL be criticize for how they handle the rep. I don’t know why a non-POC author is trying to write a diverse, magical school with what seems like hasty research.

  2. Bec

    I just want to say that, while initially hesitant, I really appreciate the way you put together this review. I would not have come across the apology or the promise to amendments. I also would not have been aware of the overarching emission of legitimate diversity throughout the book.

    Thank you for doing a review a lot of other reviewers, including myself, did not make an effort to do.