Book Review: A DEADLY EDUCATION by Naomi Novik

Title in gold on navy next to a book, and staff
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Young Adult
Star Rating: 3 stars
Series: yes - first book in trilogy


Book cover for A DEADLY EDUCATION: title in blue on gold above a staff and a book

Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered.

There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal.

Once you’re inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.

El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school’s many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions – never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.

Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying her hardest not to use it… that is, unless she has no other choice.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


A DEADLY EDCUATION was a book I had intended to give two stars as I slogged through the first two thirds of the book, but then managed to be a sufficiently engaging finally to bump it up to three stars and make me want to read the next book.

There has been a fair bit of controversy over this book around how it handles race, and I’d encourage you to read the most “liked” review on Goodreads for a break down of that.

The thing that struck me while reading this was the writing style. I read and loved Novik’s TEMERAIRE series before I started blogging, and SPINNING SILVER is on my shelves to be read, but I really struggled with this book.

It is a very short book (barely over 300 pages), but it felt so much longer – and not in a good, immersive way. The chapters are incredibly long – 20-25 pages each on average – with very few scene breaks. This means there’s never a place to pause, you just have to keep going. For me, having a space to pause is important to pacing and enjoyment, as 25 pages of unbroken text starts to drag if I’m not engaged. Plus, pauses usually happen after a big tension beat which helps with pacing. Very few pauses reduce this.

At the same time, there was not a lot happening in these very long chapters. There was a lot of introspection and info-dumping of the world, without El actually doing much. There simply wasn’t enough activity from her to engage me with her, to want to see what was on the next page, as I was probably going to find the next page full of more introspection. She spent half her words complaining about Orion or how tough the world was for someone who was on their own without friends when she actively was horrid to people.

As characters go, El is very unlikeable. She’s mean to everyone, and it makes no sense at all, as she’s constantly going on about how friends and alliances are necessary to survive, and yet she actively pushes everyone away. Particularly Orion. So yes, it was nice to not have a romance following all the beats, and there are several books for that relationship to build up, but there is no real explanation for why she’s nasty to him – or anyone else – despite the pages and pages of her brooding.

However, by the end, the pacing did pick up as there was a concrete goal they were working towards (no actual idea why they all did it, as it seemed completely counter to El’s modulus operandi to volunteer for such a stupid, dangerous task). It gave the book a much needed focus and drive, leaving little time for introspection.

The last 60 pages managed to pull the book around so completely with the change in pacing and style, not to mention I am now curious how the relationships established in this section play out. So I will probably read the next book. Which is very impressive, considering how much I was complaining to friends about how dull the book was beforehand!

Despite this, my overall impression of the book is not great. I probably won’t be in a hurry to pick the sequel up, though, and it does make me rather nervous about my plan to finally read SPINNING SILVER this year.

Read my reviews of other books by Naomi Novik:

Young Adult:

The Scholomance (this series):



2 thoughts on “Book Review: A DEADLY EDUCATION by Naomi Novik

  1. I agree with your review – but I loved Spinning Silver the most of all Novik’s books. Do give it a try. Personally, I won’t be reading the sequel to A Deadly Education.

    Liked by 1 person

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