CBRBingo: New Series, Pandemic
I loved A Deadly Education so much I preordered The Last Graduate so I could read it on the Australian release day. Luckily for me I had only a few days to wait.
The Scholomance is such a great setting. A school without teachers, created to keep young magicians safe from the magical creatures that can’t resist the lure of people old enough to be full of tasty mana, but too inexperienced to properly defend themselves yet. A school that is teaching its sudents to defend themselves, but in perverse, frustrating ways that drive the students to discover and bend the unwritten rules to their own ends. A school that is old and breaking down, where graduating seniors have to run the gauntlet of the mal infested graduation hall to make it out alive, and the only contact with the outside world is a fresh crop of students and their weight controlled baggage each year.
El is our window to this world. She is a prickly, self-described loser. She is fighting against her destiny, as foretold by her great-grandmother, that she will become a dark sorceress. The school is nudging her in that direction, giving her powerful, destructive magic in response to even the most mundane of requests.
Magic has a cost in this world. Spells can be powered by mana, freely given or earned, or malia, power forcefully taken. Most magicians cheat a little and pull on malia occasionally, but El won’t, or can’t. She knows if she starts, she won’t be able to stop. So she is forced to grind to power her education, survive the daily dangers of the school, and build a bank for graduation.
The economics of magic structure the hierarchy of the Scholomance and the world outside. Powerful enclaves of magicians, built over centuries, millenia, protect their inhabitants and pool their resources. The enclaves compete for power and influence. And those outside the enclaves struggle to join one, or build their own. Within the school, the enclave kids have mana to burn and unaligned students competing for their favour, to try to snatch a coveted guaranteed place.
Orion is an enclave kid, from powerful New York. Orion is a hero, selflessly placing himself in danger to save others. This is simply not done in the Scholomance, where everyone needs to fight for their own survival, and alliances are based on a cold calculus of mutual benefit. El “decided that Orion needed to die after the second time he saved [her] life.”
A Deadly Education tells the story of El’s final term of her junior year, as she struggles to build a plan to survive graduation, and find allies to keep her alive. She is torn between wanting the security of a place in an enclave on graduation and her contempt for the obnoxious, oblivious privilege of the enclave kids.
The Last Graduate is the story of her senior year. A message from home brought by an incoming freshman has her questioning everything that happened in A Deadly Education. The school seems to be out to get her personally. The unwritten rules appear to be warping and changing. The senior class’s tunnel vision striving to survive the graduation hall bloodbath may no longer be the best strategy for survival.
The second instalment is everything I wanted it to be. It builds and deepens our understanding of the Scholomance and the world outside. It reveals more about characters, digger deeper, and challenging assumptions. It tells a story that is satisfying in itself, while making me fervently wish the new book was already out. I want to know what happens next, and what more we will learn about the Scholomance and the magical world that built it.