This answer ended up being way harder than I expected it would be . . .
I really thought there was no chance this wouldn’t be my front runner for the Lodestar Award. On May 17th, it was even my ‘Can’t wait to read!’ pick for #WyrdAndWonder, and I was more or less bursting at the seams to tear it open and see what it had in store for me. As I discussed in my Hugo Finalist Reaction post, I had enjoyed Uprooted and Spinning Silver, but was excited that Novik was treading different territory here.
And while my initial reactions were extremely positive, I’m glad I looked around on the internet a bit, because there was a lot I had not yet considered.
Pretty positive in the extreme. The main character, El (short for Galadriel), has an engaging voice, and is fun in her extreme antisocial outlook and behavior. There is plenty of snark, but somehow it never made me bristle like most snarky characters I’ve read.
Second, there’s a lot of pop culture references (like the MC’s name for instance) and winks at the reader. One of my favorite winks was a reference to spell writing as ‘creative writing’ and something about how anything she tried to write stream-of-consciousness turned into a super volcano. Any time I’ve tried to ‘pants’ something in my own writing (or even just write ANYTHING) has certainly felt this way.
I’ve seen the book marketed as “a darker Harry Potter”, and it would be willful ignorance to say that Rowling’s work did not influence A Deadly Education, and I think it’s no stretch to say that the Scholomance is an extreme and interesting (certainly terrifying) take on Hogwarts.
(Indeed, the Scholomance was perhaps this book’s most fascinating element for me, and I’d like to do a second post for Friday about how it reminded me of a kind of evil riff on the educational ideal of the Eudaimonia Machine. Hopefully I’ll have enough to warrant its own post.)
In the realm of theme, I felt the novel had clear and prescient messaging in terms of the dichotomy between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, and I really enjoyed the way this novel actually seemed to have a hopeful outlook on those divisions becoming at the very least, less significant if not disappearing entirely.
In essence, there was much to love in this book and many will find it a complete delight to read. After all, any book that uses the term ‘glom’ to describe how a stepfather attaches to one’s mother is hitting a lot of buttons in the ‘fun’ category.
So What Gives? (Some Other Considerations):
Much like when I was trying to review Gideon the Ninth, I found that this seemingly lovely book also had some controversy swirling around it since it’s publication.
Namely, claims of racist representation (which the author has since apologized for), and also themes of sexual assault which were handled improperly. For both topics, I’m going to provide links as other people have written about them much more eloquently then I every could:
- Regarding Sexual Assault themes –
- Regarding Racist Representation –
- Racism vs. Representation: The Missteps of Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education over at The Mary Sue
- So, Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education is Accused of Being Problematic: a Non-White Reader’s Review on Reddit (y’all know where reddit is I don’t need to link it haha)
- A Response to Claims of Racism in Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education over at Book Riot
Now, I can’t really say I have much more to offer, except I felt it important to boost these articles as their authors have done some hard work and critical thinking on our behalf. I definitely advise anyone reading this to give them a read and consider their arguments.
It’s been a good reminder for me to slow down and really consider what I’m reading. I hope I can be more aware of stuff like this on my own in the future.
So . . . Should it get the Award?
At this point, I’m going to say that even though there is a lot of things to love about A Deadly Education, the strikes made against it have still managed to lower my opinion of the work in general. I give Novik kudos for attempting to be more diverse with her characters, but I do not think enough work was put in to make that attempt a success.
If the other Lodestar candidates evoke similar positive feelings, but avoid the controversies pointed out by so many online, I will almost certainly raise them above A Deadly Education.
I’m still looking forward to the release of the sequel next month. If Novik can remediate any of the issues this first book had, and keep that same dazzle and fun that it also achieved, perhaps her own education will not have been so deadly after all.
Thanks for reading all this! Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!