What We Read (and REALLY liked): Naomi Novik's Scholmance Series

Submitted by Durham Tech Library on

 At 14, children with magic are transported from their homes into The Scholomance until they "graduate" at 17, but many will not make it out alive due to mal (magic creatures) attacks and other accidents (and a few murders). While some students display an affinity for languages or alchemy, El has an affinity for dark magic and mass destruction and is having enough trouble with the challenge of not going dark (no matter what her grandmother's prophecy says), but finding friends and a way out without dying is challenge enough. 

These books were read (and enjoyed!) by Courtney Bippley, Main Campus Reference Librarian and podcaster, and Meredith Lewis, the (mostly) Orange County Campus Librarian. 

Title: The Scholomance Series (A Deadly Education and The Last Graduate)

Author: Naomi Novik

Genre: Fantasy, YA-ish, So-You-Want-to-Go-to-Magic-School

Format: Print, but the audiobook narrator is great, too! 

Read Great Things 2021 Challenge Categories: A book that takes place outside the continental United States; A book about social justice or equity; A book recommended by a Durham Tech Library staff member

Read Great Things 2021 Sprint Category: No categories! It's a book, so it counts! 1 (or 2) of 3 books read after Sept. 1, 2021. 

Why did you choose to read this? 

Meredith: Well, I think we chose to read the first one because it sounded great and we like Naomi Novik? Does that sound about right? I'm reading a lot of books about magic and witches right now, so it fits in with my personal reading theme of 2020-2021. We read The Last Graduate because A Deadly Education was awesome. It took the whole magic school trope and threw it around kind of violently--A school that accidentally kills half of its students? A "chosen one" whose talent is for mass destruction? So interesting! 

Courtney: Uprooted, also by Naomi Novik, is one of my favorite books so of course I made sure to pick up the first Scholomance book the second it came out. And then I absolutely had to read the second one after the first. I love a magic school story, and this one is Harry Potter meets Hunger Games with some Tim Burton and heavy sarcasm thrown in the mix. What's not to love?

What did you like about it? 

Margo from The Magicians holding red lightning.
Don't mind me, just fan-casting El.

Meredith: Trying to not be too spoiler-y, I really like how El grew during the second book. She has an affinity for destructive magic, meaning that she also feels dangerous to those around her that can sense her magic. Her learning to open up and let her greatness shine (without destroying everyone) was my favorite part of the book. Plus the supporting characters are awesome-- Aadhya and Liu are well-rounded and not just there to stand by and help our main character grow. Oh, and the actual story is great. 

Courtney: Everything that Meredith said, plus the magic system. I love a magic system that makes sense. In this world it takes work to create mana, which is then used up by doing magic. El has to do things like push-ups and jumping jacks to build her power. She also crochets because she hates crocheting, and the more she hates it the more work it takes to do it, so the more mana it builds. It's a system that both makes sense and fits into the difficult magic world where nothing comes easily. 

I also really liked that the romance in the book is the slow-build, reluctant, sarcastic kind of romance. It didn't feel forced at all and the love interest, Orion Lake, is genuinely likeable while also being very annoying to El. They are a match made in magic school. Oh, and it also has a magic book in it. I love a magic book.

A witch selects a magic book from a shelf of other magic books.
Magic books!

Did it remind you of anything else?

Meredith: I guess the easy comparisons are Lev Grossman's The Magicians series and Harry Potter, but despite the magic school setting being similar, this book doesn't feel the same at all. It almost reminded me more of Lanai Taylor's Strange the Dreamer since you have a main character who is ethical but has to figure out what ethics mean in the face of challenges. Oh, and Martha Wells' Murderbot because you have a grumpy character who has to figure out how to interact with folks that, oops!, they find they actually like. 

Courtney: It reminded me of Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey [available at the Orange County Campus] because that was also a book that had murder in a magic school and a jaded protagonist, though that magic school was not quite so dangerous as this one. 

What would you pair this with? 

Meredith: A good, well-rounded, non-mal-infested meal? A flamethrower of immortal flame for a little mal clean-up here and there? I don't know. I do know that I don't want to be a person with magic in that world because I don't want to attend The Scholomance. 

Courtney: I would pair this book with a grab bag of Rosetta Stone language learning courses and a trip to a slightly sketchy vending machine.