Re-read (September 2021) in advance of The Last Graduate!!! it’s interesting, I think the book on the whole is a 4* book but reads a lot like a 3* book from a writing style?
Reading this a second time, I’m less confused about the various plot points but it’s still a lot of exposition that you have to chew through, all within El’s head. I think the part that tips it into 4* territory is that the exposition in El’s head is next-level–I read a lot of first person novels narrated by teenagers, and the conclusions you end up drawing from their thoughts tend to stay on the…dull side. El, however, has some pretty messed up foundations to draw from when it comes to her feelings, and she’s left dealing with all of them, all the time, mostly on her own.
The Scholomance is just once giant PTSD factory, and El is both traumatized and aware that she is traumatized. It’s a…weird place to be in, for sure, and as readers it’s hard to read. You’re left wanting to simultaneously shake El until she just gives in and takes an enclave spot, but also understanding why she can’t do that and why the entire system is rotten to its core.
I’m so so curious what/who the last graduate in The Last Graduate is. Cannot wait to find out! Edited to add: 😭
Side note: I thought that by checking out a new edition of the ebook from the library that unpleasantness with “the locs” would be gone. Not only is it not gone, but the bits about El ‘smudging’ using her (very white, very Welsh) mother’s sage added some additional discomfort. I’m telling you, Novik, you did right by the South Asians and I assume it’s because you’ve got some desi friends. Diversity and inclusion is a cake eating contest in which the prize is more cake, except that it’s cake and everyone benefits if there’s more cake. Please do right by all the diverse characters you have in this novel, not just the one that resembles me!
Original review: Hmm! I’m so very torn about this book. I will probably oscillate between 3* and 4* over and over again, wishing (as always) that Goodreads let you put half stars! (Edit next day: See? I told you I’d be torn. Woke up the next day wishing I had more of the book to read that’s 4 stars for me!)
A couple of thoughts that I have already shared with my fellow Novik followers
– This is no Spinning Silver. Personally, I think this is not even as good as the first few Temeraire books (His Majesty’s Dragon through to Empire of Ivory) as a whole. It’s much much better than the second half of the Temeraire series, and almost anything is better than Uprooted.
– You know how there’s often a character in a new world who is new to said world? Ariadne in Inception, for example, whose entire job seems to consist of “female” and “exposition.” This book does not have such a character, and I found myself desperately wishing that it did. Just someone, like a confused/lost freshman or something who needed El to explain what was going on and why everything was going on and how everything gets on. We’re constantly in media res and it’s a great way to get across the frentic, PTSD-inducing pace of life in the Scholomance. But it’s also a way to muddle the stakes for which we’re playing.
[ For example, it took a very long time for the main Point of El to come across. She (would be? is?) inordinately powerful but doesn’t want anyone to know because they’d assume she’s using the bad malia magic because no one would believe she’s actually strict mana. Or, sorry, strict mana, as everyone always says. And she’s also the daughter of some fantastically powerful Drew Barrymore-esque healer lady who lives in a yurt.]
– In my old age I am finding it more and more lovely to come across representation in novels! El is half Indian! This is just a thing! Her father was from Mumbai so her mother made her learn Marathi, do you understand what a casual point that is? That is Kamala Harri so very casually on purpose dropping a chitti or idli into her speeches to just gut us. It’s all the more lovely because it wasn’t telegraphed as THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT SOUTH ASIAN THINGS (looking at you Aru Shah and the End of Time), it just so happened.
That being said the bit about “dreadlocks” (locs)…should have not been there. It is not germane to the plot, and in a little bit about how everyone is forced to shear their hair to prevent mals from grabbing ahold of them, it is unnecessary to point out that locs in PARTICULAR can harbor little eggs that hatch mals that eat away at your skull. The whole locs are special harbors for egg laying mals is a bit…tone deaf in a book that tries so hard to be inclusive in a show don’t tell way.
– I wish that the text was literally broken up into smaller paragraphs, it was a bit of an eye chart to read
– I will be reading the next book, but I don’t think I’ll distinctly remember what happened in this one!
– I just finished this one, and I’m not sure I distinctly get what happened!
– Still will read anything by Ms. Novik! Next book out July 2021 (Edited to add: it was not): The Last Graduate