Sara reviews A DEADLY EDUCATION by Naomi Novak, Del Rey Publishing, 2020.

When I say I could not put this book dMean Girls and Monsters: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik | Tor.comown, I mean, I had all three versions checked out at once (hardback, ebook, and e-audio), and I was constantly switching between them as I went about my day. I’m already halfway through the sequel and still in love with the characters, the humor, and the world-building.

I chose this novel as my Halloween-themed review because I assumed a book about a magical school where graduation equals getting out alive would be adequately spooky.

And it is!

The monsters, called “mals”or “maleficaria,” are literally lurking around every corner waiting to devour unwary students. Luckily, our hero Galadriel (El for short) came prepared for a fight, and has a convenient affinity for destruction. What I did not expect from this book was the humor, or just how entertained I would be by a book about a girl who has all the makings of an evil sorcerer but can’t fix a doorknob to (literally) save her life.

El has no interest in helping others. She understands that for the magical school to run, it has to feed on the magic within the mals, which are in turn fed by students who stupidly go to the bathroom
by themselves or forget to check their food for poison. Normally, by this point in the year, the school would have lost at least 100 juniors, but this year, they have lost fewer than 20, thanks to the class
hero—Orion Lake. Orion, unlike El, is very popular and completely impractical. He’s a member of the New York enclave, which should mean that he has advantages that other students don’t get (hand me-downs from graduating seniors, making allies by promising spots in his enclave after graduation, a shared pool of “mana” to use for casting spells). Despite this, he spends his time literally looking for trouble, hunting down the monsters that a more reasonable student would run from. Due to this, he has now saved El’s life twice (after he caused the danger in the first place), and she despises him for it.

The contrast between these two (and the “will-they won’t-they?” romantic tension) is enough to carry the story on its own. El is insistent that she can take care of herself, putting every effort into being hostile and rude whenever Orion does something nice. Meanwhile, Orion continues saving people while the school and its monsters grow hungrier. Before the end of the year, something has to be done, or else graduation may be impossible for all of them.

This may be the best book I have read all year. The Scholomance is such a frightening and intriguing entity, and every interaction between characters is strategic—no use getting close to
someone who’s unlikely to survive. The exposition is neatly wrapped in sarcasm and double meanings. I had all the feelings while reading this: terror, excitement, anger, and elation.

A truly enjoyable read.