I started reading other reviews of this book and got so incensed that I am breaking my rather strict “write reviews in order” rule to respond to some of the criticism.
Which is…woooooow are people mad about 17 and 18 year olds not swearing eternal faithfulness to their high school boyfriends. I feel like Novik has hit a really sore nerve for some people who read YA fantasy (or, say, Harry Potter) and believe that it’s normal for teenagers (TEENAGERS) to always end up with the first person they fell in love with in high school (HIGH SCHOOL). Don’t get me wrong–I have been a R/Hr stan (and a L/J stan, too) for about as long as the two of them started to make googly eyes at each other. But it is downright weird that everyone ended up married to their high school sweethearts. That is Not Normal.
And, honestly, if you’re that focused on the romance (or, if you recall El’s insistence that Orion not be her boyfriend, lack thereof) subplot in this novel then you are missing the point. Which is, that capitalism and the associated hoarding of assets is a disease and there is no freedom without freedom for all.
We rejoin El after That Ending, as she lands on the soft green grass of the Welsh compound that her mother calls home. In defiance of another standard YA trope, she does not immediately dust off her hands and charge into saving the world/finding Orion/continuing some of the healthy platonic interpersonal relationships she only recently developed. No, like the shell-shocked post-Hunger-Games-Katniss that she is, she proceeds to throw copious amounts of magic into various scrying and summoning spells, then collapses, then proceeds to mope around Walesland for what feels like ages…especially when we, the reader, are still pretty amped up from the fog of all out war that El and her classmates waged on the Scholomance.
It takes…a while…for the motley gang of too-mature-too-fast teenagers (TEENAGERS) to muster together and figure out what to do next. Because, again, they mostly expected to die and never see the outside world. As it turns out, not everything is sorted now that El and co are outside the Scholomance. You think a school populated by murderous mals was bad? Wait until you see the scariest setting of them all…the Real World.
Because that’s what this book is about, in my mind. El’s always had this unshakeable moral compass that prevents her from taking the easy way out. And you’d think that if she could do it in the Scholomance, she could definitely do it in the Real World, where at least you’re not in active danger every minute. But outside, it’s not so easy to figure out what’s going on and what’s right and wrong. At least, it’s not easy for me. If there’s any real complaint I had, it’s that El is so radically convinced at all times of her inherent moral superiority it makes it hard to empathize with her.
El stays on the straight and narrow path of socialism and equality because she knows that any deviation will result in a one way ticket to the Bad Place. What about the rest of us, who can get away with a little IRL malia? Maybe it’s a plastic bottle of water because you forgot your chic Hydroflask and can’t find a single water fountain in all of London. Maybe it’s those weekend flights to exotic cities and all the resultant CO2 emissions. Maybe it’s quietly rolling your eyes at the funny ‘jokes’ that your colleague has about women instead of speaking up “to keep the peace.”
El (and Novik) would have you believe that there is no way to both be a good person and let small things slide. And honestly? I can’t say I fully disagree, but at the same time we can’t all be once in a generation powers with unshakeable ethical cores. I might <3 El, our half-Indian Sorceress Queen, but there’s a lot more to take away from the characters who surround her.
See? So many words and yet I’ve barely scratched the surface of the key themes of this book and the romance barely even features. And that’s because it’s Not The Point, people.
[…but, if we have to discuss, if you thought Orion wasn’t coming back I do have a bridge to the Scholomance to sell you.]