Semi-brief review because I read this back in October, and my memory of it has faded. I remember being engrossed in it. I love the concept of a magic school that runs itself. And I love the horror aspect of this, that all these kids are trapped in this school because it’s too dangerous outside for them, even though it’s dangerous inside the school as well.
I really liked the protagonist, El (short for Galadriel). She is so grouchy and anti-social, but as with all characters of this type that creep into my heart, it’s just a front for someone who is lonely and doesn’t know how to connect with other people. She’s also dark sorceress in the making, and the school keeps trying to help her along, even though she doesn’t want to be a dark sorceress.
There was a unique focus in this book on things that books with schools of magic usually ignore or gloss over: the economics of it, and how kids of different social classes cope and what those differences mean in this strange heightened environment. There’s also a real multicultural feel to this book that you don’t see often. There are kids from all over the world in this school with El, and many different languages are spoken.
I really enjoyed all the characters by the end, as well. I’m going to have to re-read before book two in 2021, though. Not really a hardship. It’s a relatively short read, and well worth reading again.
Worth noting: There was a controversy with a scene in this book that played into a racial stereotype that Novak has since apologized for and removed from future printings. I think she handled herself well, although Twitter may also have tried to cancel her anyway, I have no idea. I think there needs to be room for a middle ground where authors are allowed to make mistakes and fix them, especially when it is so obvious that she is trying to promote a multicultural and racially diverse worldview in this book.