The edges of darkness

We didn’t read the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik for the longest time since the thought of another book/series set in a wizard school was tedious. What else can anyone write after seven years of Hogwarts? The whole thing had been overdone and we couldn’t even understand why a writer like Naomi Novik had fallen into that trap. But, oh us of little faith. Its precisely because the books are written by Novik that we should have known they would be mind blowing. She has taken the genre and completely turned it on its head.

A Deadly Education and The Last Graduate are the first two books in the Scholomance series set in the Scholomance school for kids with magical capabilities. The school is supposed to help them survive the early years which are particularly dangerous for magical kids when the deadly mals (demon like creatures) which sense magic, go after the soft targets which are basically children. The school is set in the void and can only be entered at fourteen when the children are ready to be trained. Once there the only way of leaving is by surviving graduation by fighting through a room full of mals. There are no adults, no outside communication and classes are conducted by the school which is semi sentient. There are no friends, only assets and allies. The mals, Novik’s very imaginatively constructed demon like creatures, creepy and ever present, are ready to pounce.

Novik’ s protagonist is called (we love the name) Galadriel, El for short. She is not a typical hero because as a child she was prophesied to have become a dark lord, causing large scale death and destruction to the magical community and the enclaves they live in. Most people are able to sense her incredible strength and innate darkness which makes her a bit of an outcast. Having been brought up by her mother, a hippy type magical healer, living in a yurt on a commune in Wales, El has developed a conscience and keeps trying to keep her dark side at bay. Her biggest problem is Orion Lake from the New York enclave, who keeps on saving her when she doesn’t really need to be saved. Orion Lake is a bit like an inverse Draco Malfoy. He is good looking, from a powerful magical family and from the most powerful enclave, surrounded by kids from his enclave who all love him. But he has zero arrogance and goes around saving everyone.

The books are some of the most diverse that we have read in a long time, at least racially. None of it seemed to us to have been stuck on just for the sake of it or because of the demands of political correctness. Most of it seemed quite real. El herself is half Indian and being Indians we found the things said about the Indian side of her family and also about her friend Aadhya, quite authentic. There was very little indeed which could be said that was jarring. We know people have criticised the lack of details about students from different parts of the world but not every character can be fleshed out in detail beyond their relevance to the main characters. As it is, the world building is amazing and incredibly detailed. The friendships and bonds that are created at the school stage of life, that too in an environment of extreme stress are a pleasure to read. El is a gutsy character who despite her power and ability to attract the most destructive spells tries her best to live according to some principles. The books are written in first person and El’s sarcasm and attitude make her a funny and enjoyable narrator.

Our main grouse really came from the ending of the second book which is the most HORRENDOUS cliff hanger we have seen in a long, long time. We think Novik, in the process of keeping her protagonist from becoming a dark, destructive force, went over to the dark side herself. Never have we wanted so much to fling a book at the author! At least we only had a few weeks until the third book came out. We pity those who had to wait for more than a year to find out what happens next. We have the third book in our possession now and will be reviewing it next week. We just hope the last one is as immersive and fun as the first two.


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