Yet another great book I’ve read this year that I really just do not want to write a review for, because it means having to find the words and think thoughts and all that stuff. I always have the most trouble with books I love and give five stars to. It’s always like, HOW DO I CONVEY THIS FEELING which morphs into I DON’T EVEN WANT TO TRY with some whining in there for good measure.
I really liked the first book in this series when I read it last year. The idea of a sentient school for magic that is also your teacher is so great. And add on top of that the idea that what is missing from a lot of YA fantasy books about magic schools is the cost of that magic, and that being inside the school is incredibly dangerous (it’s more dangerous for kids to be outside it, which is why the school is still there). The result is that Novik gets to play around with ideas of economic in/equality and power and social dynamics in a way that is extremely fun and also thought provoking.
Here, she takes that set up and turns it up to eleven, because everything in this book (which covers our main character El’s last year in the Scholomance before Graduation and almost certain death for most of her classmates) is a consequence of events, mostly orchestrated by El and Orion, that happened in the first book. Having done such a good job setting up the baseline for the school, which hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years, suddenly dynamics are changing, and it is exhilarating to read about.
A warning, if you haven’t started this series yet but want to (and you should!): This book ends on a TERRIBLE cliffhanger. It is an audacious, great ending that makes unbelievable sense and brings the themes of the series full circle, but you will be waiting in agony for book three just like I am, and if that doesn’t sound appealing to you, I recommend waiting until next fall (when hopefully book three will be out) and just binging all three in a row so as to minimize your emotional pain.