*I was provided with an eARC by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!*
CW: a bunch of really murderous monsters of various kinds
This was my first Naomi Novik book and I had an absolute blast with it. From the premise alone, I already had a strong feeling I would enjoy A Deadly Education, the first book in the Scholomance series, but I wasn’t prepared for just how much fun I had with it.
From the beginning, Galadriel, who is usually just going by the name of El, was a hilariously snarky narrator. She finds very little to like about the people around her or the situations she finds herself in. Where other people try to see the good to get by, she is utterly prepared for the worst and expects nothing from no one. The amount of times she described herself as not being able to stop seething almost felt like a running joke at some point, because she really did have the hardest of times feeling anything but angry, which makes the moments she feels vulnerable all the more special.
However, what could have easily been an annoying trait after a while, worked well for her. Death seems to be a constant companion at the school and everyone is way too okay with more than half the class dying until graduation. They had to prepare to be eaten by monsters pretty much their entire lives (unless they were from a well-off enclave … which weirdly are only New York and London?). It felt so callous and cold, but I tried to jot it down as a coping mechanism. All I wanted from El was for her to actually care for someone, to break that carefully crafted facade, and during the course of A Deadly Education, that’s exactly what you get, which is what makes it such a joy to read.
The strong suit of the story is definitely El’s interaction with her fellow classmates, be it with enclave kids she hates, the few kids that tolerated her or, most fun of all, shinning knight and do-gooder Orion. If I had to describe him, I’d say he was a classic example of a himbo – not the brightest bulb out there, but a boy with a heart of gold … and not bad to look at either. His banter with El was really EVERYTHING! If you can give me a good “Why are you being nice to me? Are you mad at me?”-kind of dynamic, I am hooked! I don’t really want to speak more to the nature of their relationship, because I don’t even know if I can call it fake dating or not, but it’s hilarious.
Where the novel struggles a bit is the world building. I never really found myself confused by the concept of the school, the international aspects with students from literally all over the globe being in this one void place or the onslaught of murderous monsters. What I did struggle a bit with was the enormous info dumps though. El is telling everything from her point of view (with a really interesting 4th wall break at some point), with long paragraphs of inner monologue and little else, which establishes her voice nicely, but also just means info on info on info in some sequences of the book. I wish there had been a sleeker way to introduce all that to us, but it kept happening throughout the novel, even after the initially very info-dump-heavy first chapter.
What really throws you for a loop is the final line of the book though! Honestly, this could have easily been an interesting standalone book (with only a couple unanswered questions left), but with that one last line, it turns your whole world and the experience you just had upside down. Now I am really full of questions and anxious to find out what the frick is going on!
Fazit: 4/5 stars! Absolutely loved this and am already so looking forward to the sequel!