A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education
Lesson One of The Scholomance
by Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik is awesome so I always perk up when I hear a new book being promoted and this one is a delight. Although also clearly a two parter and the next part isn’t due out until late June. Hmph!

The Scholomance is a magic school that’s more along the lines of The Magicians than of Harry Potter, but also with a strong influence of Battle Royale/Hunger Games although the students are not pitted against each other exactly. The school itself is deadly and dangerous and the students struggle to maintain alliances that might help them survive both the daily (and nightly) dangers, but also prepare for the horrific battle of graduation. This is not a situation of a malicious authoritarian government, which would be bad enough, but the best answer developed so far to get magically inclined kids to survive the hideously dangerous adolescent years where they are most tasty to the monsters that want to eat them. The school is essentially under siege and subject to constant invasions but at least the students aren’t easy pickings like they would be outside of it. The world-building is amazing and complex with fascinating implications.

The main character, Galadriel, known as El, has the additional problem of having an affinity for devastating magic of mass destruction. Friends aren’t really an option when people assume you’re a serial killer just biding time till you can become a mass murder and harder still to learn practical life skills when the school syllabus assumes you’re more interested in slave armies and supervolcanoes.

It’s like Novik asked: how could an already fraught middle-school/high-school of cliques and miserable adolescence be made even worse and then went with it. And it makes the wins all the more triumphant and the friendships all the more satisfying.

This book was the second half of Junior year and it was amazing. Next up: senior year! (aka, The Last Graduate, Lesson Two of The Scholomance, to be published June 29, 2021, in theory book 2 of 2, but this world is so fascinating that I’m already hoping for a book 3 as well.)

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

spinningsilverSpinning Silver
by Naomi Novik

I spent an afternoon and two evenings gasping “oh no!” in between bouts of giggling, and stayed up way too late both nights and had a very difficult time putting it down for a night and a work-day in the middle. I love Novik’s writing and her characters are a delight, and she keeps her plotting fast and dense, and just so much happened and I loved it all!

The story is clearly inspired by Rumpelstiltskin, but makes a lot of changes, and really focuses around the theme of trading value for value, as it tells the interlinked stories of a young jewish money lender, a poor servant girl, the daughter of a duke, a tsar, and the king of the winter elves.

The world-building is also amazing as Novik introduces a whole magical realm in parallel to a more historical Russia, and then leaves both the reader and the main characters to piece together the rules of magic and society that permeate that alternate world.

It also made me realize that while, like any fairytale, it’s something of a morality tale, the morals quite difference from the standard. Many fairytales have the moral that if you remain kind even in abusive situations, then you’ll eventually get out and go on to have a good life. Which is an important lesson and is touched on, but isn’t the main one here. And this one is equally valuable: be ruthless in your demands for fair treatment and harden your heart against those who would emotionally manipulate you to avoid the consequences of their actions.

So, to sum up, this was amazing and I highly recommend it. It also kind of reminded me of not only Novik’s previous book Uprooted, but also Bujold’s Sharking Knife series, and Mckinley’s Sunshine, all of which I also really liked and recommend.


Uprooted by Naomi Novik

by Naomi Novik

This was so good! I love it!

I love this so very much, and luckily I’ve been on vacation so I was able to just blast through this book within 30 hours (which did include a full night’s sleep, for which self-control I should definitely get kudos.) Of course, now I’ve finished it, and that is a travesty and I may need to start it all over again.

Novik created a world of magic and politics and then wrote these gorgeous, vivid descriptions, and complex characters. I love Agnieszka (the main character) and I can empathize with literally every other character who appears, good and evil and in-between. The characters are complex and human. The story is a fairytale, but it’s also a fully developed novel and it addresses the difficulties and horrors that get skimmed over so easily in a short fairy tale.

Uprooted reminded me of Robin McKinley’s various fairytale books, but I think I like this even more. Unlike McKinley’s stories, Uprooted is an original story with original characters, but is steeped in Polish and Russian folklore.

The story starts with Agnieszka being picked as the once-very-ten-years tribute to the Dragon. The Dragon is actually the local lord and an immortal wizard who protects the land from the Woods, which are quite dangerous. It’s unclear what happens when he takes his tribute except that when they are released after ten years, they are well-dressed, well-spoken, are delighted to see their families, but refuse to live anywhere near the Woods ever again.

After that, things happen! And it’s all very exciting.

You can read the first chapter here.

Go read it!

Temeraire by Naomi Novik

His Majesty’s Dragon
Naomi Novik

Throne of Jade
Naomi Novik

In honor of Crucible of Gold being released this last Tuesday, I have to go back and review His Majesty’s Dragon and Throne of Jade, the first two book in the Temeraire series.

The books are:
His Majesty’s Dragon
Throne of Jade
Black Powder War
Empire of Ivory
Victory of Eagles
Tongues of Serpents
Crucible of Gold

I have to admit that I’ve actually only read the first two books. However! The reason for that is that I am clearly insane. Despite how I don’t do this for any other series in the world, I can never seem to start the third book without wanting to go back and re-read the series from the beginning. There are so many good scenes and characters and dialog that I can’t resist it. So I go back and read the first two books, at which point I discover that these are really wonderfully dense books in which the plot and action just keeps coming, and so I can’t really read more than two in a row without beginning to feel a bit glutted. But glutted with awesome!

Eventually I’ll have simply memorized the first two, and then I’ll be able to move on to the third and fourth book, I suppose, and I’m very excited about that prospect. But in the mean time, I have to go back and re-read the scene in which Temeraire hatches, and their first air battle, and when Laurence confronts Rankin, and has dinner with Roland, and… and… and…!

Anyway, plot: This is historical fiction based around the Napoleonic War… with dragons. As it turns out, I like historical fiction a lot more when there are dragons inserted. Especially these dragons.

The main character is Captain Will Laurence, formerly of the British Navy. A variety of circumstance, however, lead him to harnessing a young dragon, Temeraire, at which point, he was, perforce, part of the British Aerial Corp. While the war is, of course, a large driving force for the plot, a larger part circles around the differences between the very formal British society that Laurence is accustomed to, the more casual environment of the Aerial Corp, which bridges that of British society and that of the dragons, and the dragon perspective. While Will Laurence and many of the other characters are definitely characters of their time period, the dragons often act as an outside perspective on events and social mores. Dragons, for instance, have their own perspective on sexism and slavery and right and wrong, which isn’t really anachronistic because, well, they’re dragons.

His Majesty’s Dragon and Throne of Jade both really come together because Temeraire is an absolute delight, Laurence is wonderful in his awkward formality and concepts of honor, and they are absolutely devoted to each other, which just makes their differences with and regarding the world around them all the more apparent.

It’s a story about the love of a man for his dragon, and a dragon for his man. Anyway, these are wonderful books and I definitely recommend them.