29 September 2020 – Del Rey
ARC provided in exchange for an honest review – thank you!
OH MY GOD this book is bloody GENIUS.
I’ve never been one of Novik’s more rabid fans. I thought Uprooted was okay, and I actively dislike Spinning Silver. But this book blows them both of out of the water. It’s smart, wicked, dark, and thrilling.
Sixteen-year-old Galadriel ‘El’ Higgins is a sorceress. Like other magic wielders, at the age of fourteen she was bussed into the Scholomance, a magical school without any teachers or authority figures whatsoever. She hasn’t left since. The only way a student leaves school is by graduating, and that involves a frantic race for life through a horde of ravening monsters. Only about half a senior class ever make it.
These monsters – maleficaria, or ‘mals’ – are absolutely everywhere, and they love nothing better than consuming sorcerers. True, the school is infested with mals, but students still come to the Scholomance because your chances of survival are even worse if you pass through puberty on the outside. Every day, El wakes up, tries desperately to find someone who’ll let her walk to breakfast or the bathroom with them, and then settles down to learning all the things you need to get out of the Scholomance alive.
(In case you’re wondering how this school works without teachers, Novik does a great job of explaining. Basically, you do the work, or you die).
El is half Indian and half Welsh, but she doesn’t fit in for more reasons than just her mixed ethnicity. She’s a dark sorceress: she was born with an affinity for death and destruction magic, which she has to be very careful to keep herself from using. It would be far too easy for her to destroy the Scholomance – and everyone inside it. So, no matter how much she’s ostracised for the weird vibes people get off her, and her abrasive personality, she keeps a tight lid on her self-control.
Orion Lake is pretty much at the other end of the social spectrum from El. He’s a wealthy New Yorker with access to almost limitless magic, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, he has a hero complex. He’s saved hundreds of students from mals… and she’s one of them. She can’t stand that. But he needs someone to save him from himself, and that someone looks like it might have to be El.
I don’t think there’s anything about this book I didn’t LOVE.
✔️ El’s character is perfect. She’s prickly and snarky, because she’s been hurt so much, but she’s loyal, smart, and incredibly relatable. Her development over the course of the book – from furious loner to someone who lets Orion in, and realises that maybe she’s garnering real friends too – is beautiful to behold. Oh, and also, she’s hilarious.
✔️ The worldbuilding is brilliant. It’s clear Novik put an insane amount of thought into this series, and it really shows. I guess you might call some paragraphs infodumping, but I was so fascinated by this whole concept that I absorbed all of it greedily. Nothing seemed too much for me. I just wanted to know more about the whole world Novik has created here. The Scholomance is described exactly as I’d imagine it, and I’m so glad she’s done justice to it.
✔️ The romance is just right. It’s barely even a romance, just the lightest touch of one, but it’s set up very well for the next book. Orion is such a great character.
✔️ I love the diversity. The Scholomance is very multicultural, taking in literally all the magical students from around the world. This is incorporated into the book without feeling like we’re being beaten over the head with it.
Go read the damn book. I’ve been purposely vague on the plot, because this is something where you really will derive maximum enjoyment form going in blind.