Book Review: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 2 of Scholomance
Publisher: Del Rey (September 28, 2021)
Length: 368 pages
Naomi Novik should consider herself lucky we’re not in the same room right now, because I can’t decide if I want to screech in her face or give her a hug while crying tears of pure joy. Yep, The Last Graduate was THAT good, but ugh, that ending! I’m still in a state of shock.
First though, a bit about the book. As it is the direct sequel to A Deadly Education, this one cannot be read as a standalone, and as such you should also be aware that the following review may contain spoilers for the first book if you’re yet not caught up. The story follows protagonist Galadriel “El” Higgins and her friends at Scholomance, a school for magically gifted children. In order to graduate, students in their senior year must pass a final challenge by running a gauntlet against a swarm maleficaria, or “mals”, which are monsters that feed on magic. Not everyone comes out of it alive, and in fact, each year a good number of students are expected to fall to the mals, so most would-be graduates train hard and adopt an “everyone for themselves” mentality in order to increase their chances of survival.
But this year, El is looking to change all that. Figuring out that the school itself has a mind of its own and a need to protect as many students as possible, she comes up with a plan to save everyone. Of course, such an endeavor is going to require a ton of mana as well as everyone to work together, and she’s not sure she can make either one of these happen. Luckily though, she’s forged several alliances since coming out of her shell, taking others into her confidence and allowing herself to trust some of her classmates. One of them happens to be Orion Lake, a talented monster hunter who is also very sweet on El, but she’s not quite sure what to make of him yet. Having a dark prophecy hanging over her head has a way of complicating things, making her nervous and reluctant to take things further with Orion. So instead, she decides to focus her attentions on ending the deadly situation at Scholomance, devoting hundreds of hours into training exercises and getting everyone ready for the big day, which is fast approaching.
What a difference from the first book! I won’t lie, there were parts of A Deadly Education I struggled with, and most of them had to do with El, whom I found insufferably ill-tempered and unlikeable, and the fact that she was downright awful to everyone around her certainly didn’t help. However, being forced to interact and actually work with her fellow students seems to have done wonders for her personality, making her rethink the loner life as she finds new purpose in trying to change things for the better. Now that El has become more caring and less self-absorbed, she was also much more pleasant to read about this time around. Needless to say, she’s easier to sympathize with when I’m not gritting my teeth against her belligerence, and it made reading this sequel feel like a whole new experience.
And yet, the style and pacing of the story remained quite consistent with the second half of the first book. While A Deadly Education opened with a somewhat drawn out and sluggish intro, it ultimately made up for that with a killer ending, and I was glad to see that The Last Graduate was able to snatch up that momentum and keep running with it. Obviously, as a sequel, it had the advantage of being able to jump right into the action, but on the whole this one also felt more evenly balanced and better paced. Having a timeline for graduation and an endgame to look forward to definitely helped moved things along, and with everyone working towards the same goal, the result was a sharply focused and less meandering plot. There was even time to work in some relationship development between El and Orion, as well as other little detours involving the history and motivations of Scholomance without being too much of a distraction.
All in all, everything in the first book was either rectified or improved upon in The Last Graduate. Perhaps the only thing that was worse was the cliffhanger. If you thought the one at the end of A Deadly Education was bad, ooh boy, you have no idea, mwahahahaha! Just as it appears things might be finally settling down, the rug gets pulled out from under us again, making you realize Novik’s far from finished with us and the fun’s just begun…
So glad I decided to continue this series. While I can’t honestly say I appreciated the whiplash I got from that cruel and abrupt cliffhanger, The Last Graduate was otherwise very enjoyable, easily my favorite sequel of the year, and definitely one the biggest surprises.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of A Deadly Education (Book 1)