Every now and again you can be lucky enough to find a series that draws you in and makes you feel that you’ve found you’re clan. A deadly Education is the first book in a series (book two ‘The last Graduate’ is due out in September 2021) and i’m hoping there will be many more to come. . The synopsis sounds complicated right? and it is, a little bit, but Novik walks you through it with such skill. To be honest, the blurb really doesn’t do it justice, but the marketing team had a hard job on their hand of trying to get the story across without giving anything away.
It’s taken me three days to write this review, as I’ve tried to find something clever and witty to say about it when the simple truth is, I like this book and it’s hard to explain why without giving too much away.
It has all the elements you’d expect and enjoy from a fantasy novel, and even though most people I know who enjoy this genre feel it bridges the gap between YA and adult fiction, I should still probably say that the only thing that gives it away that this is a YA book is the teenage protagonist. Novik has gone with the canny technique of a YA voice and theme with an adult backdrop. (I know it’s school but I don’t think even Harry Potter had THIS many near-death experiences)
The protagonist is a girl called El who goes to a special school called The Scholomance. What makes this school so special is the fact that it’s for magically gifted children, it’s held between realities, there are no teachers, the school itself assesses your progress and provides your work accordingly. However, where there are magical beings there are beasties and there are some right nasty ones in this school. Luckily El is constantly rescued by resident hero Orion, which she is especially aggrieved by, considering that El herself is potentially the most dangerous thing in the school.
Oddly enough, one of my favourite aspects of this book was the one thing that most reviewers found annoying about it, and that’s what they’re calling the ‘info-dumping’. There’s a strong feeling amongst the reviews that there is constantly just too much information being thrown at you. In hindsight, I can see their point, and if you’re a fan of Novik and were expecting her usual standard this may be annoying. However, for me as my first foray into her style, I didn’t mind it. In fact, I think it contributed to her world-building and just made me even keener to read the next book. Maybe now that the base is established the next book won’t have so much of it, but it didn’t detract from the story at all for me. I can’t help it, I like information. Sure if a bunch of schoolroom chairs have just come to life and chased after our main characters I want to know how that turns out as quickly as possible, but I do also like to know why.
There is so much going on here, that not only is Novik giving you an entertaining story but it feels like she’s laying the groundwork for what could be (hopefully) an epic new series. El is at times annoying and frustrating, but refreshingly consistent. Orion is the reluctant hero, despite being provided with a bit of background for him he still feels a little 2 dimensional to me, but I hope he’ll be fleshed out a bit more in the next book. They are supported by a range of diverse characters, speaking of which . . .
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the controversy around the book regarding some racist claims. I am by no means qualified to comment on this point, but what I would say is that the issue is a sin of omission rather than intention, and has been addressed by the author. If this is an issue that has you reconsidering adding this to your TBR pile, please do read a broad selection of reviews before making up your mind. As it is a fantastic book and could potentially be my favourite new series.
Which nicely segways into my next point . .
. . my favourite old series, Kim Harrisons ‘Rachel Morgan/Hollows’ series.
I first fell in love with these books back in 2005 when Stephanie Meyer and Charlaine Harris were battling over who could create the most unsettling vampires, and the popularity of ‘Dark Fantasy’ vampires and werewolves was on the rise and being sneered at by the SF & Fantasy elite.
I was a member of The Book Club Associates, a wonderful mail-order book service where, once a month, you could order books and didn’t even have to pay for them until you received them. (Unfortunately, the company collapsed in 2012 and I can’t help but feel a little guilty about my occasional late payments). If one month you didn’t choose a book they would send you the ‘Managers special’ and it just so happens that one month I was sent ‘Dead Witch Walking’ by Kim Harrison, I was appalled that a ‘Dark fantasy’ novel had made its way past my threshold, but being the bibliophile I am I read it, and was smitten! Rachel Morgan was a hot mess and I loved her instantly! The detail in the spell casting and vampire lore was just epic. There were feisty pixies, self-effacing werewolves, and wisecracking Demons, with every book I was fully immersed in the Hollows and every book ending was a wrench, as I was forced back into reality. I will forever have the image of vampires line dancing to Rob Zombies ‘Living dead Girl’
Then in 2014 the inevitable happened, and Harrison brought Rachel Morgan’s story to an end, and I’ll admit after reading the last book I quite literally felt lost. I eventually moved on with my life and tried to turn a blind eye to the odd ‘Hollows’ novella or prequel that came along, not wanting to re-open old wounds. Then it happened, in 2020 in the middle of a world pandemic, Rachel Morgan came back!
It’s taken me a year to pluck up the courage to go back to the Hollows, but this week my brand new copy of American Demon arrived. Unfortunately seeing as my series now stretches over more than 15 years my shelves don’t quite look right. I’m trying to convince myself that I don’t need to buy them all again in the same series format, however, I don’t quite believe myself.