Thursday, February 25, 2021

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik is adept at weaving completely original and compelling stories from the merest thread of a fairy tale (Uprooted, Spinning Silver). Her Temeraire series is an imaginative telling launching from both the Master and Commander series and the Dragonriders of Pern series.

So when I was reading this book and the word "Scholomance" made me think of Dracula, I went looking for information. In this case, Scholomance originates in real folklore (read more about that here) that was used by Bram Stoker in Dracula. It's just a sentence or two about how Dracula essentially was schooled at, as a friend told me once, "the devil's Hogwarts" So I was thinking of that and ... found this from Dracula.

The Draculas were, says Arminius, a great and noble race, though now and again were scions who were held by their coevals to have had dealings with the Evil One. They learned his secrets in the Scholomance, amongst the mountains over Lake Hermanstadt, where the devil claims the tenth scholar as his due.
He dared even to attend the Scholomance, and there was no branch of knowledge of his time that he did not essay.
What Novik has done with these beginnings is to turn the Harry Potter magical boarding school on its head. This is a school where there aren't any teachers, where supernatural monsters roam the halls, and where students form alliances hoping that they will survive graduation. There is a lot more to this magical world and, as always, Novik's world building is wonderful, with all the ramifications followed through to logical conclusions, sometimes in surprising ways. It is told by El who has the power to destroy multitudes but whose New Age mother taught to be respectful of life. Which really puts her in a bind when it comes to exercising enough power to pass her classes.

In many ways, this is a typical school scenario where the heroine is an outcast who has to gather a band of fellow students around her to accomplish their goals. There's a high level of angst which I found somewhat tiresome by the end. However, it is a great adventure told with humor, irony, and a certain innocence that worked for me. And, its heart is in the right place.
I’ve been taught any number of ways to manage anger, and they really work. What [my mother's] never been able to teach me is how to want to manage it. So I go on seething and raging and knowing the whole time that it’s my own fault, because I do know how to stop.
El's mother taught her well and El draws a number of thoughtful conclusions which enrich the story and give it a good anchor. I'm looking forward to the second part of the series.

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