[A quick note: This was one of my highest anticipated reads of 2020. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this special edition copy from Owlcrate, which I love. It will hold a special place on my shelf as I eagerly anticipate the second book!]
“READER, I RAN the fuck away.”—Naomi Novik
Hogwarts meets Hunger Games in this story about a magic school full of monsters trying to kill students before graduation. El is a particularly powerful student in the Scholomance with a secret deadly prophecy hanging over her head. When Orion Lake saves her life for a second time, she decides that he’s a threat to the school, but what follows is a surprising friendship with the potential for more. Orion Lake is nearly a celebrity, a hero, the popular kid, and everyone wants to get close to him. But he doesn’t do it on purpose. When some especially dangerous monsters start breaking into the upper levels of the school, it’s down to El and Orion to save the students.
I couldn’t get enough of the Scholomance! This book was fantastic! I fell in love with the world Novik created, her characters, the plot, the unique ideas, all the monsters, and the danger lurking around every corner. This isn’t some ordinary magic school for teens. It’s one that tries to kill them. The creativity behind how the school functioned left me intrigued, flipping pages to learn as much as possible.
I absolutely adored Orion Lake’s character. He’s such an oblivious doofus, but he’s also a teddy bear. I wanted to hug him! Yet, he’s super gifted. He’s got a knack for slaying monsters. He saves hundreds of kids at the school, putting his life on the line every time without question. El wants to hate him. But how can ANYONE hate Orion Lake?! As a protagonist, he was quite different from the usual. I’d liken him to a jock, but not the conceited type. The type that is what he is without realizing it. I found myself loving him regardless. And El was quite interesting, too. She’s got powerful dark magic flowing in her veins. She keeps it hidden from the others. She’s an outcast and a reject with no friends. She’s like a cactus, prickly on the outside but soft on the inside. Yet, she’s the only one who treats Orion like a normal person, instead of a god-like hero deserving of worship. Their banter back and forth was so entertaining!
The monsters were such a fun addition to the story. These are very much the Halloween type, with extra eyeballs, creepy-crawlys, goo, scissor hands, blades, everything you can imagine out of a “monster.” But I was especially impressed by how Novik described them. She didn’t overly detail or flesh out a single one. She allowed the reader to take a single sentence or two, and fill in the gaps with our own imagination. She gave just enough to build a picture, while injecting a sense of danger.
The learning that happens in the school was weird! Weird but cool. There are no teachers—not really. The school itself has enough magic to teach the students. They follow independent tracks. And the school feeds them spells needed to improve their abilities. For example, books that appear from the void when they need a cleaning spell. Such a creative approach to learning!
Also, the student politics added an extra layer. There are enclaves, basically the rich privileged kids, and then there are the outcasts. The enclave kids have it easy. They’ve got access to lots of stuff the others don’t. So graduation for them is fairly certain. But their graduation comes at a cost that is paid by all the outcast kids who mostly become sacrifices for them.
The way Novik layers each of these details into the story as frequent asides was brilliant. It took some getting used to in the first two chapters. By chapter three, the pattern was established and I loved it.
This is meant to be a trilogy. While book one has a clear-cut ending, the final sentence had me groaning. Novik leaves us with a subtle cliffhanger, a warning, that had me like, “Wait, what?!?” And immediately desperate for the second book. Hands down a favorite 2020 read for me. Can’t wait for book two! MY RATING: 5/5⭐️