Book recs: ‘A Deadly Education’ blends ‘Harry Potter’ with engaging dark elements


Penguin Random House

A Deadly Education takes a unique, dark spin on the school of magic premise.

Gianna Cocovinis, Staff Writer

We come from a generation that is living in wait for that long-lost letter to be delivered by an owl, inviting us to Hogwarts at last. But in “A Deadly Education” by Naomi Novik, that summons to school is a death sentence for most students. Imagine Hogwarts…but if Voldemort was the Headmaster, and the entire school was full of Slytherins. 


The story starts in the middle of junior year for Galadriel (El) in the Scholomance, the magical school all wizard students attend from freshman to senior year. There are no teachers, no grades or even friendships, save for strategic alliances in which the only goal is to keep each other alive until graduation day. People either team up and guard each other’s backs, sharing their own supply of magic and various magical objects, or they risk the odds of being alone in a school designed to test their survival skills at every turn. Normally having no friends is a disappointment at best but in this dangerous, cutthroat academy, it means El’s left defending herself against ravenous monsters trying to crawl their way up through stairwells, pipes or even shower drains to chew on an unsuspecting student.  


El might not have any allies of her own, but she has enough power to level mountains and destroy entire civilizations without breaking a sweat. It would be all too easy for her to call upon her power and coast right through her classes, dodging bloodthirsty monsters and being the most coveted ally around, but there’s one small problem she’s not willing to budge on: using her power would also wipe out the entire school. For this reason, she attracts the attention of Orion, another junior with an affinity for monster killing that always seems to get under El’s skin, but he endears her with his selfless, kind nature. Together, they navigate through their junior year and begin to uncover secrets within the school that reveal just how deadly their odds are becoming as more monsters than ever before are building up in anticipation of the upcoming graduation ceremony. It’s up to them and a ragtag group of friends to figure out how to keep the monsters at bay and stay alive long enough to get to their own graduation ceremony. 


For fans of “Harry Potter” and “Deadly Class,” this book transported me right into the very gloomy, death-filled halls of the Scholomance. Watching El go through painstaking efforts to watch her own back and go through routine safety procedures to prevent any surprise monster attacks only showed me how truly unprepared I would be at a school like this. I’m lucky to be surviving at Iona at this point! The narrative itself is a stream of consciousness from El’s own thoughts; I thought this choice was interesting as it provided an opening into the head of a pragmatic, witty straight shooter with a knack for strategy that blew my mind.  

Beyond El’s snarky comments, I appreciated the depth the author went into covering the world, building and giving detailed histories and explanations for this ancient, dark and magical place. Some of the descriptions and tangents came across as “info-dumping” and dragged-out certain parts of the story at times, but as a fan of dark, atmospheric books steeped in the aesthetics of dark academia, I was enthralled by the complex power structures and detailed histories Naomi Novik wove throughout the story. “A Deadly Education” is the perfect book to read on a muggy, cloudy day, with a story that plunges you right into the cruel and unforgiving underbelly of a world ripe with magic and danger at every turn.