Bingo Review #25 Reader’s Choice in place of Gateway, and Blackout!
I was rather hoping to use A Deadly Education for the Gateway square as the introduction to Naomi Novik. I have changed my mind upon completing the novel, but thankfully I still had the Reader’s Choice square open. I was kind of hoping to not use it, but oh well.
The premise of this novel and apparently series is brilliant; think Harry Potter’s Hogwarts crossed with Hunger Games. That’s what this is. El is a junior in magic high school, but in this world the school has no adults (I’m still not sure how this works functionally, and it isn’t well explained) and graduation consists of a mass attempt to escape the school building through a horde of starving demon/monsters things called mals which infest the school (also not as well explained as I’d like; the history here sounds pretty fascinating). Most people have some sort of magic affinity which they work on during school, and El’s appears to be something highly destructive and deadly. To use magic she can either make some sort of sacrifice to build and maintain the power (what it costs the user is what counts, so since she hates to crochet, that counts; likewise for intense workouts), or she can tap into mana (magical force) except that’s essentially the way to the Dark Side (so to speak). The school’s golden boy Orion also has this habit of saving heroics, and he’s saved El several times (although he may have caused one or two of the monster attacks), and she hates this and him. Except that once they start directly interacting, maybe they’re kind of alike and outsider-y (and you can guess where this is likely to head). The thing is is that in order to survive in the school in general, but especially the graduation ceremony, most students form alliances of various sorts, and sometimes betray or dispose of each other in the name of surviving getting out and starting their careers as magic users.
El also has a pretty interesting backstory about her parents, especially her mother. This explains a lot about how and why she is how she is, and that process of revealing is what drives a lot of the novel, until El finds a really special book in the library; this is where the actual plot picks up. This delay in real action until over halfway through made it harder to get into the novel that I’d like, and there’s so much left unexplained about the world that it’s a little unsatisfying. This is also aggravated a bit by the cliffhanger final line of the novel which is actually somewhat cliché in context.
So, brilliant premise and plenty of promise in narrative; the actual style though and the slow start and many questions of world building make this not a great place to really get to know/like this author. For that, go to Uprooted (what got me) or Spinning Silver; you could start with the Temeraire series, but personally, those felt a bit generic to me, and I got bored after two or three novels.