CBR Bingo – New Series
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, Book No. 1 in the Scholomance series, was a disappointment. It had an interesting premise: a sorcery school that is crawling with creatures who are set on injuring and killing the students. Unfortunately, the book didn’t live up to the premise.
The book centers around Galadriel, an extremely powerful wizard who has the capability to cause mass destruction. She has kept her power hidden from her fellow students and the prestigious enclaves that sit at the top of the hierarchy. She is rejected by the other students and initially has no friends or alliances. She eats alone at lunch and no enclave wants her. This is partially due to her terrible personality and endless fury. The character is enraged all the time, to the point of tediousness. I think the author wants the reader to interpret anger as depth, but without other personal qualities it’s just one-note and annoying.
Orion is Galadriel’s “will they/won’t they” foil. He is admired for his ability to fight the malevolent, hungry creatures who overrun the school and rescue other students. He rescues Galadriel multiple times, which she resents. He is implacable in his care for Galadriel, despite that she is sarcastic and abusive to him. Despite the supposed flirtatious tension between them, their relationship is inert and trite. The enemies-turned-friends trope is unearned. The reader has no idea why Orion puts up with Galadriel, nor why Galadriel is so mean to him. I think we’re supposed to read her aggression as a way to protect her secret heart, but instead it just seems obnoxious. I seem to be spending a lot of time talking about her terrible personality, but she is INCREDIBLY unpleasant. We spend infinite time in her head, and we mostly get endless whining about the burden of her power and her rejection of the other students. Eventually and slowly she does make friends and they form their own alliance. It makes her less of a caricature, which I appreciated.
Strangely, given the premise and Galadrial’s character, there is little tension in this high-stress situation. I can’t pinpoint why this is so, but I did not find myself propelled along by any rising stakes, although the author tries to ratchet up the drama. It is similar to the relationships—flat. Maybe it’s because the characters are not complex enough to invest time in caring for them. The character descriptions are superficial, which makes the relationships superficial, which makes the plot superficial. Plus I was confused half the time because things are not explained well or early enough to keep track of all the threads. Some important, basic information wasn’t provided until I was well over half-way through the book.
The author would have done well to explain what the stakes are beyond the students just surviving the school. The information provided is vague and piecemeal. Considering how violent the world is, it seems crucial to know more about the whys and wherefores.
The ending had the most weight, with shades of emotion that enhanced the story. I wish the whole book had been as satisfying.