A Deadly Education
October 26, 2020 9:53 PM - by Novik, Naomi - Subscribe

Naomi Novik, author of the Temeraire novels as well as Spinning Silver and Uprooted, kicks off a new series with a bang. A school for magic, you say, I’ve heard that tune before. Not like this...

Galadriel Higgins is a half-Welsh, half-South Asian future dark sorceress. Except she really doesn’t want to be. Her hermetic deathtrap of a school keeps shoving apocalyptic spells at her, when what she really needs is a cantrip to clean up the squicky remains of the creatures constantly coming for her and everyone else who can’t afford the best protective spells. She could also really use some allies to help her make it to Graduation alive...
posted by sixswitch (20 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Nice! I have spent the past few days half-heartedly looking for something to sink my teeth into. This should get me out of my malaise. Thanks for posting. :)
posted by Literaryhero at 1:26 AM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]


I think it is a testament to Naomi Novik's skill as a writer that I liked this book -- a lot -- really a lot -- in spite of the fact that major parts of the basic premise Do. Not. Make. Sense.

From the complete lack of adult supervision (NO ONE was willing to live there on a permanent basis to keep an eye on the kids?) to the deadliness of graduation (they just ... gave up on repairing the defenses? at the school where all their kids -- ALL their kids -- are going?) to the death rate of adolescent mages outside the school (you couldn't even maintain a population with those numbers) to the fact that no one has even tried to put a better system in place in the last 100 years (yes, supposedly the school was irreproduceably built by insane geniuses, except that early on the book also talks about other people planning to build alternative schools, but they just haven't bothered yet, I guess).

But.

The voice of the narrator was fantastic. The thematic thrust of the book is A+ solid. I always wanted to find out what happened next.

So in the end, I just ... accepted the stuff that Makes. No. Sense. There are things other than worldbuilding, and this book has 'em.
posted by kyrademon at 3:58 AM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]


Given the terrible neglect/wilful destruction of the American education system (and the complete refusal to pass decent laws to avert school shootings and in-school policing), what you're describing, kyrademon, sounds to me not only NOT nonsensical but worse--recognizable.

I'll be really interested in reading this and I haven't read anything by Novik before, although Spinning Silver been suggested to me.
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:30 AM on October 27, 2020


I just read this Sunday and yesterday. It was very good, and a testament to Novik's skill that I predicted early on that I would get quite tired of Galadriel but didn't.

There's a brief section in the book saying that the most powerful wizard in the world had tried and failed to repair the defenses, and that they had also sent in a massive crew of people to attempt it and that only two survived (possibly insane after? I can't remember). I think they tried two or three times before giving up. Anyway, I was able to accept it and keep going.

I don't remember the book explaining why they didn't just abandon that school and build a new one, though maybe it did. If I had to guess, I'd guess that since the spells for building an enclave are such closely-guarded secrets, the spells for building a magic school might be even more so--but that might not be the canonical explanation, or even close.

dlugoczaj, Uprooted is good too. In fact, this one reminded me of that one, except where that one struck me as wry and charming, this one struck me as deeply, deeply angry. Still, I liked it.
posted by johnofjack at 8:49 AM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]


dlugoczaj, I'm not in complete disagreement with you -- in fact, one thing that very much did NOT appear on my unbelievable-worldbuilding list was "the rich kids have a higher survivability rate, and it's explicitly at the expense of the poor kids", which more than anything else might be the central conceit of the whole book.

johnofjack, the book absolutely made good-faith efforts to explain everything I had a problem with. It's not that it didn't try. I just ... didn't buy it sometimes. I'd rather not go into nitpicky details about why, so I'll just leave it at that. I still thought it was a really good book.

Both Uprooted and Spinning Silver are excellent books by the same author. Interestingly, a number of people had the same problem with both (although I did not), which is that the main love interest in both is kind of a jerk. One thing I therefore thought was extremely interesting about A Deadly Education is that, in a sense, it is told from the POV of the main-love-interest-who-is-kind-of-a-jerk. But I thought that people who had that issue with the other books might like this one more, because getting Galadriel's internal monologue ends up creating a lot of sympathy and understanding from the reader about her outward behavior.
posted by kyrademon at 9:00 AM on October 27, 2020


I don't have much to say except I really liked this! I especially like that it's a YA fantasy with touches of romance without the obligatory love triangle!
posted by Anonymous Function at 10:09 AM on October 27, 2020


Interestingly, a number of people had the same problem with both (although I did not), which is that the main love interest in both is kind of a jerk.

See, I loved the fact that the main characters in both of those books immediately recognized "wow this guy is an asshole," and only when the asshole in question sees how awesome the protagonist is and softens toward her does she begin to return his feelings. It's a particular kind of passive power fantasy and I can see how it might turn some people off, but in neither case does the main character overlook the guy's dickishness, like happens in a lot of wish-fulfillment narratives.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:49 AM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]


I also tore through this book in less then 2 days =)

One of the explanations I took away from the "deadly" nature of the school was that, in addition to (or maybe even because of) the very deadly nature of being a magician, which is the cause of the high mortality rate of young magicians in and outside of the school, all the magicians (adults and teens) have a different perspective on what acceptable losses are. They are all raised to believe that many of them will die before majority anyway, and the school improved those numbers significantly, even with the failed defenses, so thats good enough! Combined with the (social commentary) discrepancy between the mortality rates of the rich and poor teens, the rich/powerful are even less motivated to expend the effort and lives (of the richest and most powerful, natch) to repair the school's defenses.

In many ways the mortality etc fits with a historical perspective rather than a modern first world one - high infant mortality rates have been the norm throughout human history, and the concept that every child should be expected to live to adulthood is a relatively recent idea. The magicians society in the novel apparently doesnt have that cultural norm.

As for the specific technical difficulties, I had the idea that the adults can access the school only through the graduation gate, which is closely guarded on the school side by the maw mouths, whereas the students inside the school could access the defense machinery to repair it at some remove from the maw mouths. So the students were in a better position to effect the repairs than a group of adults coming from the outside anyway.
posted by Illusory contour at 12:06 PM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]


From the complete lack of adult supervision (NO ONE was willing to live there on a permanent basis to keep an eye on the kids?) to the deadliness of graduation (they just ... gave up on repairing the defenses? at the school where all their kids -- ALL their kids -- are going?) to the death rate of adolescent mages outside the school (you couldn't even maintain a population with those numbers)

Obviously mages have an R type reproductive system, producing many "cheap" offspring that parents give limited care and protection to. Thus the high death rate of young mages is a good thing, because otherwise they would overwhelm the ecology. We should be careful of transplanting mages into an environment without natural predators, lest we end up with a situation like rabbits in Australia.
posted by happyroach at 12:08 PM on October 27, 2020 [5 favorites]


[can I just say this is my first post to FanFare and I am SO HAPPY]
posted by sixswitch at 12:39 PM on October 27, 2020 [7 favorites]


Now that the defence mechanisms are (at least partially?) fixed, the 'R-type' [pew pew] reproductive strategy won't require any population transplanting to lead to ecological catastrophe. I'd also say it's more like poisonous cane toads than rabbits.
We'll just have to hope that crows learn the trick of eating wizards.
posted by Marticus at 3:03 PM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]


(they just ... gave up on repairing the defenses? at the school where all their kids -- ALL their kids -- are going?)

They didn't just give up. They tried several times and gave up after the incredibly powerful mages they sent in died horribly.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:57 PM on October 27, 2020


I enjoyed this a lot too. I read it during quite a stressful time and it was pretty much perfectly paced for my mood and needs at the time. I didn't worry myself with thinking about plot holes and just went with it.
posted by knapah at 6:03 AM on October 28, 2020


Nice! I have spent the past few days half-heartedly looking for something to sink my teeth into. This should get me out of my malaise. Thanks for posting. :)

Well I was right, I read it in about a day and a half. While I agree that there are some parts that don't hold up to scrutiny, over all I think the book was just about perfect.

Problem is now I am in another kind of malaise, the one where you just finished a really good book and now don't know where to turn next.
posted by Literaryhero at 9:18 PM on October 28, 2020


Murderbot?
posted by Marticus at 9:33 PM on October 28, 2020


Murderbot?

Sadly I am all caught up there. However there look like a few other promising books posted in Fanfare just above this one so I might be ok for a little while. :)
posted by Literaryhero at 5:27 AM on October 29, 2020


I could go on a recommendation spree, but my go-to is checking the hugo & nebula short-lists.
posted by Marticus at 2:32 PM on October 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


Literaryhero - if you're done with, and enjoyed, Murderbot, Martha Wells' other novels are also a lot of fun. I particularly adored her Raksura novels, which start with The Cloud Roads.

Re: A Deadly Education, what might look like plot holes now, I tend to think of as "currently unanswered questions" -- Naomi Novik has a way of tying up loose ends that makes me think there's more to come on that front.
posted by invincible summer at 4:46 PM on October 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


Ha, I also read this in about a day and a half! Most of what I'd heard about it beforehand was dark Harry Potter and the dreadlocks controversy, which yeah, was a misstep, but not such a horrid one that it made me stop reading. It was fun, it kept my attention, and I liked Galadriel enough to not mind being so much in her headspace (I also definitely want to know what's up with Galadriel's mom, I have my theories, but they're just that - theories).

I liked Uprooted and Spinning Silver, but this was a lot more fun than either of those. I also liked the first parts of the Temeraire series (I never got around to finishing, just because the last books came out at a time when I wasn't really reading much of anything, and haven't gotten around to doing a full reread yet) - and something about the tone reminded me a lot more of those, even with all of the death.

Anyway, I'll definitely be reading the next one next year.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:46 PM on December 6, 2020


Ugh, I want the sequel in my hands already.

Spoilers ahead!

It wasn't a flawless book--there was a lot of interrupting the action for a lengthy explanation, for example--but this was some of the most fun I had reading a book in 2020. I just enjoyed El so much, and her sometimes obtuseness about friends and people who may actually like her as a person. Contrasted with her savvy and scrappiness and rightful paranoia when it came to the privileged popular kids who are smarter than Orion. I loved the heroism and tragedy of things like her taking out the mawmouth with no one knowing, and the emotional release when her friend figured it out. The contrast of her love-and-light hippy mother with El's destiny as a destroyer-of-worlds. The moment when she faced a wall of cleansing fire and Orion was finally rightfully awed by her.

I'm super curious about what's happening next. We've got to tear this horribly unequal system down, right? And now that book one has laid down a lot of the rules I'll find it easier to follow and tear through the sequels even faster. (I can't tell yet if my occasional confusion was due to 2020 brain fog, or it being actually convoluted at times.)
posted by j.r at 6:08 PM on January 17


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