A Deadly Education was one of the most hyped books for this year. Magical school meets the hint of dark magic? But early POC reviews alerted us to racism against dreadlocks, the use of POC side characters as plot devices, and El’s biracial (British Indian). Since I already had the electronic early copy, I decided to read it and even if one ignored the glaring racism, I still would not recommend. Keep reading to see my full thoughts on A Deadly Education.
A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.
There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.
El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
Please make sure you check out Asma’s review which details the racism within A Deadly Education. Having read the entire review, I can second the claims of the very unnecessary racism against dreadlocks especially since the point could have been made easily without the comments. Another point that Kate (from YourTitateKate) makes in her review, is that even the ‘diverse’ characters do not have much detail or nuance to them. Kate says that they could have been replaced by white characters who knew the specific languages and I 100% agree. She also makes the very good point that Mana is an existing concept in Polynesian religion and even though it’s being pervasively used in video games, does not make it okay.
I have had this conversation many times before. If, while I’m reading, I don’t remember someone’s identity, especially over the period of an entire book, then I seriously side eye. I am not biracial. My identity as a Chinese American has filtered through my entire life. Whether it be the way others treat me, in mostly white spaces – asking me where I’m from – or even other Chinese people speaking to me in Chinese – I don’t speak Chinese – my identity as a POC and as an adopted person is something that impacts my choices and feelings. And it doesn’t go away over time. So while I don’t share El’s biracial identity, or ethnicity, I cannot imagine a lived narration of my own life without these touches.
But What About the Other Parts?
Now you may be asking me, well what about the rest of the book. I read the entire book and even if one ignored the racism, I was not a fan. Look, I really liked Spinning Silver and Uprooted, but this was just not it for me. I kept reading because I was determined to finish, but if I wasn’t, Novik would have lost me about 40% of the way in when there was not a clear sense of plot or action. I’m fine with ‘slice of life’ stories and even with stories just about a year of school, but the amount of clunky paragraphs dedicated to explanations made it hard to slough through.
I enjoyed the idea of the school and the magic especially considering that El comes from a background where she isn’t given any advantages – unlike those part of the enclaves. This imbalance was discussed overtly and subtly throughout the book. A Deadly Education is one of those books where, ignoring the racism, I enjoyed the idea of the world, but the execution wasn’t there for me.
In addition, I felt like it was almost 80% through with the book before I felt like, “okay the action is going, the plot seems to be moving somewhere”, before I was just stumbling around. I’m also all for ‘unlikeable heroines’ (I mean there is a huge conversation I can’t get into now with that….), but El was really pushing it for me. I understand that everyone in the school is basically your competition and you have no real reason to befriend anyone, but many of her decisions didn’t make any sense to me. Additionally, it was hard for me to figure out who El was as a character, because I felt like her internal narration or emotions just weren’t delved into deeply.
I’m pretty disappointed overall with this book, not only for the racism, but also for the writing. The idea of the Scholomance is one that I really enjoyed thinking about, but the execution left me frustrated. It’s a shame because I think we have all been looking for more stories about magical schools considering the transphobic comments JK Rowling has made as well. But I gotta say that this isn’t it.