Staff Pick: ‘A Deadly Education’ by Naomi Novik

Title: A Deadly Education

Author: Naomi Novik

Narrator: Anisha Dadia

Can anyone say with absolute confidence that they had a good high school experience? Are there people out there for whom those long, cringe-worthy years didn’t turn into a black hole of memories you no longer talk, much less think, about once you’re safely outside the reaches of adolescence? It turns out even witches and wizards have a rough time of it at the magical Welsh school, Scholomance. Only, in addition to battling the crippling embarrassment of their teenage years, they also have to fight their way past the maleficaria—monsters with a particular thirst for young witches and wizards—just to graduate.

Now that’s rough.

A Deadly Education sees Nebula Award-winning author Naomi Novik returning to series form after her two previous standalones, Uprooted and Spinning Silver. Set at the Scholomance school in Wales, A Deadly Education follows prophesized villainess-to-be Galadriel, or El, who despite her affinity for dark magic is trying to thwart her ominous destiny. Her acerbic attitude keeps people at arm’s length—that is until she inadvertently catches the attention of school darling Orion Lake. She could care less, though. All she wants to do is keep her dark powers in check and maybe, hopefully, form an alliance by graduation so she can make it out of the Scholomance alive.

I was primed to love this audiobook because my two guilty pleasures just happen to be books about witches and books about boarding schools. But even the most magic-adverse person would find themselves hard-pressed to not love El in her more vulnerable moments. Novik’s masterful ability to create memorable characters is on full display here, and narrator Anisha Dadia’s animated performance only serves to heighten El’s sharp tongue and no-nonsense attitude. If you’ve been searching for the antihero of your dreams, look no further—El is your gal.

Clocking in at just under 11 hours, A Deadly Education is a thrilling ride that puts an unexpected spin on the magic school genre. In a world where students learn magic or literally die trying, you can’t help but root for these hapless young pupils as they risk their lives to stand in the cafeteria line.

Novik has once again proven herself to be one of the most imaginative fantasy writers of our time. With A Deadly Education, she has created an endlessly fascinating albeit grotesque world for listeners to discover. Just proceed with caution and make sure the maleficaria don’t get you.

Publisher Summary:

I decided that Orion Lake needed to die after the second time he saved my life.

Everyone loves Orion Lake. Everyone else, that is. Far as I’m concerned, he can keep his flashy combat magic to himself. I’m not joining his pack of adoring fans.

I don’t need help surviving the Scholomance, even if they do. Forget the hordes of monsters and cursed artifacts, I’m probably the most dangerous thing in the place. Just give me a chance and I’ll level mountains and kill untold millions, make myself the dark queen of the world.

At least, that’s what the world expects. Most of the other students in here would be delighted if Orion killed me like one more evil thing that’s crawled out of the drains. Sometimes I think they want me to turn into the evil witch they assume I am. The school certainly does.

But the Scholomance isn’t getting what it wants from me. And neither is Orion Lake. I may not be anyone’s idea of the shining hero, but I’m going to make it out of this place alive, and I’m not going to slaughter thousands to do it, either.

Although I’m giving serious consideration to just one.

With flawless mastery, Naomi Novik creates a school bursting with magic like you’ve never seen before, and a heroine for the ages—a character so sharply realized and so richly nuanced that she will live on in hearts and minds for generations to come.

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