Oh, that’s a joy of a book. Saying which I suppose–after you’ve read it–feels a bit ironic.
It’s one part magic school, with your more or less typical teenage protagonists doing more or less typical teenage thing. In my opinion, Novik does this very well. Main character El (short for Galadriel) is so wonderfully snarky and done with it teenage girl that I could practically feel her angst coming off the page–and it’s all the better, because she really does have a good reason for it.
On top of that, it’s another part also magic school, but in this case, Novik totally leans into this is all really deadly, who in their right mind…–except in this case, that’s sort of the point. The world is trying to kill young mages anyways, so if the only way* to save a few more of them is to shove them all off in a magical boarding school where at least they’re forced to try to survive to thrive? Yeah, this is that book.
I love the worldbuilding. The Scholomance is an absolutely bonkers idea, but it works. It’s a magical school, laced through with crazy mad science technology and downright Cthulhian beasties trying to eat everything, built into a shapeless void and shaped by the beliefs of teenagers. You have to be very careful turning in your trays (there might be something there trying to eat you), going to shop class (the equipment might animate and try to eat you), or even getting supplies (you get the idea). And you’re not coming out until you graduate–at least not without a body bag. It’s such crazy worldbuilding and Novik really brings it to life.
“Why would you ask for a spell like that!”
“What I asked for was a spell to light my room, you twat, that’s what I got.” To be fair, the incarnate flame was in fact doing a magnificent job of lighting the room.”
I also love the characters. Besides aforementioned El (uber powered magical teenage girl with the power to destroy the world, but she really shouldn’t), there’s also Orion, who’s a hero to a fault and kind of clueless. Their relationship throughout the book is a really shining testament to how teenagers (and I suppose adults) really feel like school is all the time–writ far larger than life. It’s hilarious and endearing all rolled into one (‘you brainless cod’) and I really do feel for them throughout the story. The idea of teenagers with completely different and/or clueless ideas regarding their own dating lives is hilarious to me.
“You know, it’s almost impressive,” he said after a moment, sounding less wobbly. “You’re nearly dead and you’re still the rudest person I’ve ever met. You’re welcome again, by the way.”
“Given that you’re at least half responsible for this situation, I refuse to thank you,” I said.”
Overall, well well worth the read.
And of course… WTF THAT LAST LINE SERIOUSLY . I WAS ALREADY GOING TO READ THE SEQUEL YOU MAD GENIUS YOU.
Give it a try.