A Deadly Education: Magic School Gone Dark

Book ReviewsA Deadly Education: Magic School Gone Dark

A Deadly Education: Magic School Gone Dark


Naomi Novak


The Scholomance #1


Young Adult, Fantasy, Magic


September 29th 2020


Lesson One of the Scholomance: Learning has never been this deadly. A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.

After the successful novels “Uprooted” (read our review here) and “Spining Silver”, Naomi Novik returns with new fantasy series, The Scholomance, inspired by a mythical school of black magic in Transylvania.

A Deadly Education tells the story of Galadriel “El” Higgins, a half-British half-Indian sorcerer attending a magic school. However, the consequences of any mistake in this magic school usually mean sudden death. As most memorable heroes have a prophecy, so does El – except that hers is not a prophecy of saving the world, but of its destruction.

In case this dark Harry Potter-esque set up isn’t working magic on you, there’s also a stubborn, sarcastic protagonist, deadly traps on every corner, and quite the rival/love interest.


Novik has this wonderful gift of writing humorously while giving you thrills over what is going to happen next. Dark fantasy ambient with witty metaphors goes very nicely in A Deadly Education .

However, every now and then, it can happen that a reader, while chasing thrilling scenes, gets stumbled upon quite large informational overload. It really depends whether such interruptions bothers you or you welcome them.


The protagonist, El, is a strong witch with an affinity for deadly, dark magic. While she is talented, smart, creative, she is also lonely, angry and rejected by everyone. Even since she was just a child, all she was surrounded by are prejudices full of hate. As El grows up into a bitter person, the reader can well understand the circumstances.

Shaped by those emotions, all El wants is to be alone and left alone by many self-serving people. You easily get involved and root for her, as she angrily navigates the school. Yet there will be moments when that very same anger can drive you mad.

Another important aspect of El is her particular class of magic which relies on language. El speaks English and Marathi, and picks up Sanskrit, Hindi, Latin and Old English in her study of language-based spells. There were occasions when Novik would a bit lump dead languages like Latin and Old English together with actively spoken ones like Mandarin, Hindi, and Spanish.

However, there is a trait in El’s character that did bother me. It is this almost clinical approach to diversity that extends from language into character. El doesn’t try to make many friends, she doesn’t describe her classmates as people – she describes them as assets. One could understand it as a natural reaction towards a hostile environment, but it doesn’t make it any better when El refers to others exclusively by the language knowledge they offer her.


Harry Potter’s massive cultural impact means that we haven’t seen the last of magic schools set in Britain, and we probably won’t for a long while. While it’s exciting to have a generation of readers and writers bring their own perspective to Rowling’s work and push it beyond its author, it can also be tiring catching all of the similarities.

Nevertheless, Novik builds darkly, interesting world with, for example, magic-eating monsters where the privileged live in protected enclaves and the rest fend for themselves die. Subversive school in the place between nowhere and everywhere that relies on belief to stay upright, school so dangerous that you have to check every step just to be sure a nightmare won’t jump out from beneath the table and eat you alive.

If you loved the world of Harry Potter, yet wouldn’t mind to dive into a darker, murderous ambience with a bit of a anti-hero as a protagonist, I believe A Deadly Education could be a treat for you.

See A Deadly Education on GOODREADS | AMAZON

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Writer, Photographer, Videographer. Founder & Editor of LITHÉ. Always looking for art in everything. Proud Slytherin.

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