A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education is the first part of The Scholomance trilogy which follows Galadriel “El” Higgins a student at a boarding school for witches and wizards that is a bit like Hogwarts except that there are no teachers, no holidays and the school itself and about half the other students are trying to kill you before graduation. El has an affinity for spells of mass destruction but is trying her hardest not to become the evil sorceress fate seems to have cast her as. Rude, sarcastic and terminally unpopular, she finds an unlikely ally in her ridiculously and infuriatingly heroic classmate, Orion Lake.

I adored El with her extensive range of creative insults (“you tragic blob of unsteamed pudding” is a personal favourite), she’s such an outsider and outcast who is just trying to survive high school in the most literal sense, and I was rooting for her the whole way as she finds her own little circle of friends and a slow-burn romance, and starts questioning the wizarding enclaves that hoard power and resources leaving everyone else to fend for themselves.

There’s quite a lot of exposition throughout the story explaining the rules of magic, generating mana for spells, the maleficaria (wizard-eating monsters) and maleficers (wizards that kill others for mana), but it didn’t really slow the story down and the plot – covering just a couple of weeks in the school year – trots along at a brisk pace.

The narrative cleverly combines the painful and awkward adolescent experience of trying to fit it and social rejection with the high stakes of constantly scheming students and monster attacks, as well as the rather more mundane stress of trying to pass exams and coursework. The Scholomance seems like the antithesis of Hogwarts, and really captures the loneliness and homesickness of boarding school life.

A Deadly Education is a really refreshing twist on superpowered teenagers and boarding school stories, I was hooked from start to finish and this is easily one of my favourite books this year. Have a lovely week. X

Review of ‘Temeraire’ by Naomi Novik

Temeraire

Temeraire is set during the Napoleonic Wars, but in a slightly alternative history where dragons exist. The story begins just after Captain Will Laurence of the HMS Reliant has taken command of a French ship carrying a dragon egg. Soon after, the egg hatches and the dragon chooses Laurence to be his rider, a role he is at first reluctant to accept as being bound to a dragon means giving up his naval career, plans to marry his childhood sweetheart and his position in polite society as (despite their vital contribution to the war) dragon riders are largely shunned by the rest of society. However, a bond quickly develops between Laurence and the dragon he names Temeraire, and their relationship is at the heart of this story.

Once they have joined the British Aerial Corps, both Temeraire and Laurence feel like misfits as Temeraire discovers he is a rare breed but lacks the fire-breathing or acid-spitting abilities of the other dragons, while Laurence struggles with the informality of the Aerial Corps and the inclusion of female dragon riders. The dragons themselves are all wonderful characters, and the plight of one particularly loyal and brave dragon brought tears to my eyes.

This an engaging story, but there are some pacing issues as Laurence and Temeraire don’t see any combat until the last third of the story. Having said that, the aerial battles are thrilling and capture the danger and savagery of combat for the dragons and their crews.

I’m a bit apprehensive about committing to a nine-book-long series, yet I found Temeraire quick to read and a little twist at the end left me eager to find out what happens next. Have a lovely weekend. X