Cover of A Deadly Education, with a symbol of an eye above a book drawn in gold

About the Book

Title: A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1)
Published: 2020
Series: The Scholomance
Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Cover Story: The Library Would Keep It From You
BFF Charm: Best Witches
Talky Talk: Fantastically Snarky
Bonus Factors: World-building, Sentient Killer School, Tami Taylor Award for Amazing Motherhood
Relationship Status: Let’s Start an Enclave Together

Cover Story: The Library Would Keep It From You

So, in the Scholomance (we’ll get into this in a second), the library likes to hide its most precious books from students. If I saw this novel on the shelf, with its shimmering gold binding, I would immediately grab it and know that I’d found something valuable, thanks to the intriguing design which hints at all of the magic within. And then I’d start petting it. (This sounds less weird if you’ve read the book, I promise.)

The Deal:

El (short for Galadriel, and yes, her mom is kinda nutty) is desperately trying to survive her junior year, and I mean that literally. Not only is she unpopular and ignored, she also happens to be a student at a sentient school (the Scholomance) where the main lesson taught is survival of the fittest. Only teens with magical abilities are summoned to the school, and once they arrive, they can’t leave until they’ve finished all four years, though most of them will make their exit well before that by way of a painful death. See, there’s tons of monsters (Maleficaria, “mals” for short) crawling around in the basement, constantly making their way up through pipes and vents, eager to kill as many kids as possible. And on graduation day, the remaining seniors have to go through the basement to get out of the building, so, you know, calling it a tough school would be an understatement.

El’s main goal is to 1) survive graduation 2) build alliances before graduation so that she can join an enclave, which is a sort of palatial compound built by wizards where residents are (mostly) safe from mal attacks. The only problem (besides being attacked by monsters almost daily) is that El has a secret: she’s incredibly, incredibly powerful, and like, not in a nice Glinda way. As she puts it: “My affinity is laying waste to multitudes.” Her great-grandmother, when meeting her at age 5 for the first time, took one look and experienced a vision of death and destruction so terrifying that her whole family, with the exception of her mother, wanted her dead. Fun times!

While El is trying to figure out what the hell to do, she has a Scholomance “meet cute” with the most popular dude in school, Orion Lake. And by meet cute, I mean he saves her life… a few times. Some of us might consider this a good thing but El’s just straight up pissed, especially when Orion begins to suspect there’s something she’s not telling him and starts following her around.

Aaaand I feel like this intro has already gone on too long so I’ll stop there! But yeah, get ready for some crazy shit y’all.

BFF Charm: Best Witches

BFF charm with a witch's hat and broom

You’ve probably already guessed that I love El like WHOA. She’s prickly and quick-tempered and, like, kind of an asshole, and yet she’s got a heart of gold beating beneath all of the walls and sarcasm. Sure, it’s common at this point to write a charming antihero, but what Novik has done with El goes far, far deeper. One minute, you’ll be cackling at her sardonic commentary (“I just have very little will power when it comes to indulging petty resentment”) and the next thing you know, her pain and heartache will punch you right in the gut. I don’t say this lightly: El has been inducted into my YA BFF Hall of Fame alongside such greats as Frankie Banks and, more similar in temperament, Jessica Darling.

Bonus charms to El’s hallmates, Liu and Aadhya, who are super kickass and understand just how special (and irritating) El can be.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

El and Orion certainly don’t have the sexiest enemistry, but they might just have the funniest. For a guy who rules the school, Orion is a total doofus; he’s socially awkward and unkempt and lives for killing mals, which is exactly why he’s so popular. Being the top dog at Scholomance is solely and entirely dependent on how many of your classmates you’ve saved. Which, of course, makes him a wanker in El’s eyes, a.k.a. “a monumentally stupid gigantic hero.” Their relationship evolves in fits and starts, usually with Orion doing something oblivious and then El saying something rude AF, and that might sound tiresome but honestly it’s a BLAST. And not just of the mal-killing type.

Talky Talk: Fantastically Snarky

From the very first page, El’s voice rings loudly and engagingly. She’s someone you instantly know, which is vital, because Naomi Novik launches you straight into El’s world and never slows down. Through her eyes, you’re suddenly submersed in a universe both relatable and extremely complex, not to mention horrific—oh yeah, did I mention that this book is all kinds of dark? Yet, thanks to El’s humor and cynical perspective, the story never trips up on the details and instead unfolds at a compelling pace, especially due to our heroine’s constant quips, such as:

“It’s not that I’m ugly; on the contrary, I’ve been growing increasingly beautiful in a tall and alarming way, as befits the terrible dark sorceress I’m meant to be, at least until I presumably collapse into a grotesque crone.”

“Thanks to my freshman-year Maleficaria Studies textbook, I know that our deliciousness goes up another order of magnitude every six months between thirteen and eighteen, all wrapped up inside a thin and easy-to-break sugar shell instead of the tough chewy hide of a grown wizard. That’s not a metaphor I made up myself; it’s straight out of the book, which took a lot of pleasure telling us in loads of detail just how badly the maleficaria want to eat us: really, really badly.”

Never has the prospect of dying in high school been so entertaining.

Bonus Factor: World-building

Screenshot from Lord of the Rings with Frodo looking out at a magical city

You might be thinking, oh, this whole set-up reminds me of a dozen other YA fantasy series, but I PROMISE YOU, it’s awesomely unique. The rules of magic are well-thought-out (the power of language is fascinating); the politics within the wizarding community are deliciously layered; and the universe itself is dynamically rich and colorfully bold. And then there’s the void: “I’d explain what the void is, but I haven’t any idea.”

Bonus Factor: Sentient Killer School

A sketched map of the Scholomance, a circular multi-level building

Okay, yes, the Scholomance falls under world-building but it DEMANDS its own bonus factor. This place is bananas, y’all. It’s basically powered by the belief of students that it is, in fact, a real functioning place, and as El says, “the problem with living in a persuadable space is, it’s persuadable in all sorts of ways.” Never before have I encountered a building described as petty, and I’m HERE FOR IT. Trying to get through the library in a hurry? The shelves just expand. Accidentally open a book in a language you don’t know? Sorry, all of your homework is now in that language. Don’t finish an assignment on time? It comes to life and tries to kill you. In other words, even if you don’t eff with the Scholomance, it will certainly eff with you.

Bonus Factor: Tami Taylor Award for Amazing Motherhood

Friday Night Light's Tami Taylor at a football game

Of course El’s mom would be an absolute angel. She seems to be the exact opposite of her daughter: a compassionate, free-spirited hippie who sees the good in everyone, but in spite of appearances, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. I love the contrast of the outward differences between these two (and how often El gets exasperated with her sweet mum) as much as I love the bond they share.

Relationship Status: Let’s Start an Enclave Together

Book, you are legit spellbinding. I am in awe of your imagination, and I’m obsessed with your leading lady. Like, my friends are getting annoyed because I won’t stop talking about you. But there’s just so much to wax poetic about! So how about you and me set off into the sunset to find our own place together, where we’ll await the next adventure? (You better believe I’m reading the next book!!!)

Literary Matchmaking


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FTC Full Disclosure: I bought this book with my own damn money. I received neither cocktails nor compensation in exchange for this review.

Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.