Review of The Last Graduate (Scholomance #2) by Naomi Novik
This second book in Naomi Novik's Scholomance series builds on book one's dark humor, dangerous forces, and the irresistible attraction between El and Orion. I tried to slow down and savor this winner.
Last spring I posted a rave review of A Deadly Education: Lesson One of the Scholomance by Naomi Novik, and The Last Graduate is the second in the Scholomance trilogy.
Novik's Scholomance series is set at a magical school with two routes out for its students: a grueling, punishing path to graduation and beyond or, just as likely, death. Danger and darkness lurk around every corner.
I looooooved the wonderful dark humor and unexpected details in A Deadly Education and the fantastic exchanges between El and Orion, and each of these elements is carried through in The Last Graduate.
El continues to be a fantastically grumpy, powerful, whip-smart, socially awkward, straightforward character I was obsessed with, and I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible.
Orion, the golden boy in El's class, irritatingly insisted on repeatedly saving her life and acting the annoying hero in book one. El, with her dark magic--more powerful than any of her classmates realize, which is just how El wanted it--feared she might accidentally take out Orion before she could master her skills if he kept hanging around. But in book two there's a grudging (on El's part) affection and connection between El and Orion that's lovely.
In this second book of the trilogy, El is determined to somehow help her classmates escape their deadly school despite the selfish, privilege-driven approach that's dictated life-and-death outcomes for generations.
El is torn: she could follow what feels like her destined path toward dark magic and destruction, or she could try to rewrite her future by envisioning something completely new. She hasn't exactly ingratiated herself to many people at school the past few years. She's been keeping her head down, snapping at ridiculous behavior when she can't resist, and actively cultivating her loner status in order to protect others from her shocking strength.
In The Last Graduate, self-reliant, gruff El lets a select few friends into her inner circle and lets down her guard in ways that felt poignant. El and Orion's significant, unique powers turn out to complement each other as perfectly as their personalities do. They're both once-in-a-generation wizards for different reasons, and if anyone can shift the Scholomance away from its centuries-old pattern of churning death and destruction--if anyone could dare to encourage the students to abandon cutthroat survival strategies and actually work together--well, it's these two and their unlikely band of allies.
A lot of page time was spent on logistics and on explaining why magical processes and machinations functioned the way they did--or why potential solutions were impossible. This slowed the pacing, but I felt less impatient about it than I did in book one, when Novik outlined in detail the workings of wizards' privileged enclaves and other magical systems. The young wizards hold the future of magic in their hands, in a sense, and their halting, experimental, frustrating, and often brilliant collective efforts made my heart soar.
I found myself trying to slow down and savor Novik's irresistible Scholomance world while reading The Last Graduate, and I'm so very glad there will be a third book in this series.
I received a prepublication digital edition of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
Novik also wrote the fantastic Spinning Silver and Uprooted, both of which appear on the Greedy Reading List Six Magical Fairy Tales Grown-Ups Will Love.
The dark humor in A Deadly Education and The Last Graduate reminded me of another book I also loved, Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots.