Lesson Three of the Scholomance
Reviewed October 2, 2022.
Del Rey (Penguin Random House), 2022. 407 pages.
Review written October 2, 2022, from my own copy, preordered from Amazon.com
2022 Sonderbooks Standout:
Okay, this book is SO GOOD!!!!
All right, enough gushing, now for a serious review. First, I'm so happy that my preordered copy arrived just before Cybils season started, so I could read it before I need to start madly reading Young Adult Speculative Fiction books, which is the category I'm judging this year. Although this book is speculative fiction and features a young woman freshly out of school, it's published for adults and isn't eligible for the Cybils Awards.
First, let me say that this is a trilogy where you absolutely must read the books in order to understand what's going on. So I'm going to speak about the trilogy in general terms in this review so as to not give anything away. If you haven't read the earlier books yet, you are in luck! You won't have to wait a year in between books to find out what happens after huge dramatic reversals at the ends of books one and two. But be prepared -- once you start, you're going to want to finish. I stayed up awfully late last night because of this book. (And I suspect I'll want to reread the entire trilogy after my Cybils reading is done.)
The story is amazing how it pulls you in. I couldn't stop thinking about it this morning. My shorthand way of talking about it is that it's a story about a Wizard School that wants to kill you.
But I love the way Naomi Novik does the world-building, gradually telling us more and more about the world and the magic they use. This is why you really need to start at the beginning.
The trilogy follows El (short for Galadriel) whom the universe - and the Scholomance - seems to want to make a frightfully powerful death sorceress. This is in balance with her mother, who only works healing magic with sweetness and light. The first book starts with her junior year in the Scholomance.
We learn about the magic in that universe - parallel to ours - which always has a price. Wizards can get mana by doing work and helping others, which gives them power to do magic. But they can also use malia, which gets power from taking from the life force of others. The things that want to kill you in the Scholomance are malificaria, and they are drawn to magic, and especially to young and powerful wizards, so they flock to the Scholomance like a magnet. In the earlier books, we learn that El has a grudge against the kids from enclaves, where wizards band together to share magic. But it's hard to get into enclaves, and there's a prophecy about El destroying enclaves. And then there's Orion, that annoying hero from the New York enclave who won El's heart. He wound up in a bad place in the last book. Has she seen the end of him?
So in this book, El is out of the Scholomance and figuring out what she's going to do with her life and what she's going to do about Orion. She came out of the school with the Golden Sutras -- powerful spell books about building Golden Enclaves without using malia.
And then a mawmouth is attacking the London enclave. A mawmouth is the most horrible kind of malificaria of all. It devours all in its path -- and they don't die, but remain suffering inside it forever after. Before El, there was only one living wizard who'd ever defeated a mawmouth. El, however, fought and destroyed more than one in the Scholomance. Her classmates know this, and call her to London. And that has consequences....
Another thing I love about this book is the way El, who started out friendless, now has a whole community who care about her and help her.
Okay, I'd love to say more, but I should stop. If you enjoy reading fantasy at all, tackle this brilliant trilogy. It's outstanding.