by Naomi Novik
Series: Scholomance #1
Publication Date: March 4, 2021
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered.
There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal. Once you're inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.
El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school's many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions - never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.
Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying her hardest not to use it . . . that is, unless she has no other choice.
Let me get this out of the way right up front: the amount of introspective, meandering, narrative in this book is crippling. There is a 12 page scene devoted to El just walking the length of the book stacks in the school library. Granted, it’s a magical library, and part of the point in this scene is the schools way of stretching space when it wants to, so this scene is effective at making the reader feel the interminable-ness of El’s trip to the end of the row to see what’s attacking the other kids, but while she had the benefit of adrenaline, I was just bored after 6 pages of it. And there are several further instances of the narrative just wandering away from the main subject or banging on way too long about one thing or another.
And El is … well, someone needs to tell El to pull her head out of her own ass. She’s rude – unspeakably rude – to people who don’t deserve it, and then bemoans in all her endless inner dialogs about how much she just wants friends, to be liked. The prophecy, in my opinion, isn’t convincing enough a reason for her to act like such a bitch.
Saying all that, it’s a heck of a good story. If I was irritated while reading it, it was because the Scholomance construct, how the school works, and the other characters were so fascinating, and I felt like the eternal inner-narrative and El’s occasionally appalling rudeness got in the way of the greater story. When I wasn’t drowning in El’s attitude, I was having a rollicking good time with everything else.
I read this for Halloween Bingo 2022 and while it’s a perfect fit for Dark Academia, I’ve already read for that square, so I’m going to use it instead for Murder & Mayhem by the Book. Much of the action takes place in the school library, and El finds a spell book that becomes important to her and her friends in the second half of the book.