El has strong magical powers, strong enough that she goes to a magical school. However, this school, Scholomance, is not a normal place. Instead, it’s set in its own dimension and seems determined to kill as many students as it can. El is determined that the school won’t win over her. Unfortunately, she has a problem. The problem is Orion Lake. He’s saved her life twice, making it so much more difficult for her to get the type of strategic friendships she needs to beat the school. She’s so concerned about his interference that she’s beginning to think about killing him.
This book was truly excellent. As soon as I read it, I immediately turned around and ordered the sequel (that doesn’t come out until July 2021). Novik is a skilled writer, ramping up the tension throughout the novel. This book is a little bit of a departure from Novik’s most recent writing as the narrator is a teenage girl that has a real YA voice. Even though my teenage daughter and I both enjoyed Uprooted and Spinning Silver, they had a more storybook feel and this one had a more YA feel.
I noticed . . .
There was a lot of controversy surrounding the release of this book. The controversy seemed to stem from the use of the word “dreadlocks” surrounding little evil creatures that could get caught in the locks and attack the students. I heard that it was a racial slur because dreadlocks apparently have some sort of “reputation” for being considered dirty by white people. If you read the book, it is obvious in context that the author is talking about any long hair, not just dreadlocks, and is not a pointed sentence or slur. Also this is just one sentence of general exposition in a 300 page novel. The controversy made me feel like it was aimed as a specific character or a recurring theme throughout the book. The author apologized for her insensitivity, and I think that was the right way to handle it. Future printings of the book will have that line changed, so it is more than possible that you might have a copy that does not even have that line in it.
More troubling to me was the main character’s portrayal as biracial. She was raised by her while mother and seems to retain little of her Indian cultural heritage. She seems to have completely assimilated white cultural values and whiteness in a way that means there is little interest in her as a biracial person, so the diversity seems to be meaningless here–at least at this point in the trilogy–especially since the author is a white woman.
I wondered . . .
I had so many questions about the school after this book and so many questions about what’s going to happen next. I can’t actually share any of these questions though without giving away spoilers!
Seriously, everything I wonder about is something about a plot point, and I don’t want to give anything away . . ..
It reminded me of . . .
The obvious comparison here is Harry Potter. There have been a lot of comparisons to that since Harry Potter is the most important of the magical schools books to emerge in our culture.
I would also compare this to the Nevermoor series. Much like Morrigan Crow, El is not a completely completely morally pure. Harry Potter is always so perfect that it’s kind of fun to read a more pragmatic character like El or like Morrigan.