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. (Taken from Amazon)

A Deadly Education is one of those books that’s been on my radar for ages, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it. I kept hearing great things about it, but I was a little burned out on the whole magic school thing. Well, I finally picked it up and am now a bit confused (although I got three and a half hours of sleep last night, so that’s just my state of being at the moment).

El Higgins goes to a strange school. There are no adults anywhere. The students learn from the school itself (I promise, it makes sense) while trying to live long enough to graduate. The magic of the school seems to actively hate them, with all sorts of magical ickiness constantly trying to kill them. The graduation rate is low: most students don’t survive. It’s in this hostile environment that we meet El and Co.

El isn’t popular; far from it. She is seen as odd, antisocial, and powerless. Only two of those things are true. She’s incredibly powerful, but her power isn’t the kind that people trust or want to be around. Because of this, she lets people think she has nothing to offer. Her few friends think the same thing but like her anyway.

Meanwhile, there’s Orion. He’s your stereotypical hero, with a penchant for saving people. He’s well-liked (aka “worshipped”), capable, and gives off major boyscout vibes. He bursts into El’s room to save her and that’s when their odd relationship is born. They end up needing to work together to make an already deadly situation a little bit more manageable.

This is what happens when I muse on a book for a while before writing a review: the “but’s” come out. I enjoyed A Deadly Education immensely. El is a fun character who made me laugh. Her complete cluelessness when it came to Orion’s crush on her was hilarious (and relatable. I could never pick up on the signs either). I liked that her power is so destructive. She wants a cleaning spell but somehow learns to conjure walls of flame instead. This is a common occurrence for her and there’s really no harmless or positive way to spin it. Her power is flat-out violent. I loved it.

Orion is a bit of a meathead but in an endearing way. I kept expecting him to say, “Aw, shucks”. I was kind of disappointed that he never did. His power is flashy and he has no problem throwing it around, he’s just not great at the whole strategy thing. The two of them together were loads of fun and the situations the author threw her characters into were creative and interesting.

So, what are my “but’s”? Well, I couldn’t get past the fact that no parent in their right mind would just chuck their kid into a teacherless school, especially if that school is actively trying to maim, kill, or eat their offspring. It was just strange. Also, in order to explain how things work, the main character would often go off on narrative tangents. It kept me from being lost but it also interrupted the flow of the book a little.

That being said, it wasn’t enough of an issue to keep me from having a great time reading A Deadly Education, especially since the next two books probably won’t have pockets of info dumping. The way the magic works has now been explained enough that the reader can just infer from here on out.

I’m curious to see where things go in the series and am definitely planning to continue it if only to see El and Orion continue to be entertainingly awkward around each other. I love socially awkward characters, and Naomi Novik more than delivered on that front. This is a fun, quick read.

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2 thoughts on “A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

  1. A Deadly Education definitely asks you to buy into the premise wholesale, which I was more than willing to try to do. Book 2 I think did a little better explaining “You have a 20% survival rate in the outside world and a 50% survival rate in here, that’s why you come to death school.” And agree there are a LOT of tangents, which only work if you are fascinated with the world (which I was). It’s a fantastic book for the right person, but I understand your “buts!”

    Liked by 1 person

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