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Book Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Title: A Deadly Education

Author: Naomi Novik

Series: Scholomance #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Lesson One of the Scholomance: Learning has never been this deadly. A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students. -Goodreads

The Review:

I wasn’t sure about A Deadly Education at first, but it soon shaped itself into one of my top reads of 2020.

I loved the setting (Scholomance – the place gifted teenagers go to learn how to survive against magic-seeking monsters). Of all the magical schools I’ve read about (pretty much everything I can get my hands on… it’s an auto-add subject), this is one of the most unique. There are no teachers. And really there are no rules. But the stakes are deadly, which is the only way I think a place like this works. Teens need the ultimate incentive to do well in school and make good connections. If they don’t, they die. Even the ones who work hard and play it right sometimes die. Novik, you have my full attention. And not only because I love learning about magical stuff. It provided all the school setting feels with a dystopian high-stakes attitude. Definitely a unique combination.

The source of my hesitation was the main character. She came across incredibly unlikable from the start with this “poor me” attitude that frankly seemed to me to be the biggest cause of her problems. Sure, she had a lot of obstacles to overcome, but I saw her as mostly in her own way and those obstacles a minor secondary issue. That said, the more I read the more I realized I actually liked reading about an atypical heroine. Her choices were interesting and her motives were unusual. I wouldn’t call her an anti-hero, per se, but maybe one in training. It’s also incredibly nice to read about flawed characters because, whether I like them or not, I always find them relatable to one degree or another. This gifted, ornery, always exasperated girl won me over, and I now find myself eager to read what she’ll do next – the unexpected is exciting!

And finally, a book with a school setting that’s not riddled with YA angst.

Oh, sure, the main character is put-upon and angsty, but it’s in a much different vein than the troppy YA stuff I’m referring to. For starters, the POV isn’t consumed by a love interest, and so was able to focus on the many other interesting problems prevalent throughout the book. The change of pace was wonderful. I realize this was not written for the YA market, so obviously it’s bound to be different. But it’s hard to find a magic school setting with a teenaged female character in anything other than that market (recs welcome). I hope after this, we’ll see a few more.

I also came to really appreciate the writing style. Incredibly conversational, it was infused with countless strategic tirades of information. It had such a strong voice, the plethora of info dumps didn’t bother me even though I think my critiquing radar should’ve been beeping off the charts. I’ve never been quite as bothered by info dumps as other readers. In fact, I had to practice recognizing them so I could avoid them in my own writing. For me it has always been more an issue of subject matter – if I’m interested in learning about whatever is being dumped, bring it on. There were a lot of explanation passages in this book – some of them mayhaps more long-winded than they needed to be – but most of them fit within the voice of the POV and served to reveal character, as her opinions overshadowed everything she was sharing. I didn’t mind it, but I can see how others might.

Recommendations: a huge win for the year! It took a few chapters to get going, but the setting, writing style, and ornery main character eventually won me over. It managed to incorporate all the things I love about magic school stories without the overdone tropes. Novik brought a unique spin to the idea, and I’m hopeful others will love it as much as I did. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [62]: October 2020

tackling the TBR

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
&
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.


Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

October 2020 TBR Tackler Shelf:

My new conservative system worked great in September – I finished all of my titles but one (Best Served Cold never became available from the library, so I read a different book instead). I even had time for a few extras.

But the best part is that I didn’t feel stressed about reading for the first time in recent memory, and that’s a huge win.

October got away from me a bit – it was only yesterday I realized I hadn’t composed a TTT post yet. I’m gearing up for Rhythm of War with a reread of Oathbringer (so good). My AF review title is Deadly Education (which I’ve already finished and it was awesome!). And my ARC for the month is Fugitive Telemetry which, omg, I can’t believe I snagged so early. Waiting for the next one beyond that is going to be agonizing (I know, shut up, lol).  With the Abercrombie finishing out my adult reads for the month, I threw in a YA to break things up a bit. I liked Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series (well… most of them), so I’m hoping this is a YA with a bit more substance.


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [61]: September 2020

tackling the TBR

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
&
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.


Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

September 2020 TBR Tackler Shelf:

I had a wake-up call.

And I blame my Goodreads Challenge tracker. I realized all of my reading goals were completely unrealistic based on how many books I’ve read so far this year. Because I don’t think I’m going to miraculously incorporate a ton of extra reading time between now and the end of the year, it’s pretty clear that I’ll only have a chance to get through about 20 more titles. This was hard for me to absorb. After all, I have a ton of series I want to finish, and a bunch more I want to start. Not to mention all the new releases I want to dig into. But those ambitions just aren’t going to happen based on my current reading pace. 

This calls for some organizing.

I started with a template – a new note on my phone month headers and five slots to fill with titles below each month. My review obligations with Audiofile Magazine took one slot a month. That left me with four more spaces to fill. That’s not a lot of books ::sobs:: so I really had to get a clear idea what my highest priorities were. Only the elite survived the cut, and based on that list this post is my much more realistic lineup of titles for September.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is my AudioFile obligation, and Colonyside is my ARC (omg soooo excited!), and all the others are books I most want to read at the moment. I’m glad for a nice mix of genres here, and am especially glad I saved a spot for a new series. I think with such basic ambitions and such good titles, I might actually increase my reading pace enough to add a few extras, but those only get added once I’ve finished my lineup. I experimented with this system in August (after my TTT post was already live, unfortunately) and it worked tremendously, so I’m optimistic for it going forward. It also coincides with my newfound focus of digital minimalism, which I’m sure will play a factor in my reading pace as well. Things are lookin good! ^_^


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [60]: August 2020

tackling the TBR

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
&
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.


Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

August 2020 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Physical Copies:

Audiobooks:

I didn’t get around to reading The Light of All That Falls last month even though it’s still high on my list. Ashes of the Sun took me almost three weeks to get through and by the time I finished I needed a break from high fantasy (so I picked up the new Hunger Games Prequel instead). Heading into August finds me with a few different priorities. I’ve been playing in my library at home and have decided to start including more of books I actually own in my TBR. Something about knowing they’re secure in my collection takes away the urgency I feel to get around to reading them. It’s odd. But hopefully I can start training my brain out of that thought process. I’m also doing my 1500 for 1 challenge again to help regulate how many new titles I’m bringing home. Overall, I’m feeling more like myself again. It took three months to dig out of my reading hole and I’m almost clear (two more titles to wrap up). Unconquerable Sun is my review obligation for the month and I’m hopeful it’ll be a good scifi novel. In any case, I have a nice balance of specfic genres here so I’m hoping it’ll be another great month of reading.


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Ashes of the Sun by Django Wexler

Ashes of the Sun by Django Wexler

Title: Ashes of the Sun

Author: Django Wexler

Series: Burningblade & Silvereye #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Long ago, a magical war destroyed an empire, and a new one was built in its ashes. But still the old grudges simmer, and two siblings will fight on opposite sides to save their world, in the start of Django Wexler’s new epic fantasy trilogy. Gyre hasn’t seen his beloved sister since their parents sold her to the mysterious Twilight Order. Now, twelve years after her disappearance, Gyre’s sole focus is revenge, and he’s willing to risk anything and anyone to claim enough power to destroy the Order. Chasing rumors of a fabled city protecting a powerful artifact, Gyre comes face-to-face with his lost sister. But she isn’t who she once was. Trained to be a warrior, Maya wields magic for the Twilight Order’s cause. Standing on opposite sides of a looming civil war, the two siblings will learn that not even the ties of blood will keep them from splitting the world in two.Goodreads

The Review:

Although there were a lot of things I really enjoyed about Ashes of the Sun, I didn’t like it as much as I think I should have… and I can’t quite pinpoint why. From an evaluation standpoint, it had all the elements I expect from a high fantasy: intriguing world-building, great characters, an interesting plot, good pacing, and a more than adept writing style. It had a good mix of exciting action scenes and slower character development moments. So what’s my malfunction?

I think part of the problem may have been the audiobook narrator. In some ways the characters felt over-performed, coming across as more caricatures than real people. On one hand it set the tone for cheeky characters who I think were supposed to bring a bit of lightheartedness and fun to the novel (which they did), but on the other hand it made a couple of them come across a bit juvenile even though on paper they were actually pretty badass. The final nail in the coffin in this regard may have been how recently I’ve read Wexler’s YA Ship of Smoke and Steel. Both female leads, Maya (AotS) and Isoka (SoSaS) were a bit more similar to each other than I’d have preferred.

Also, based on the name of the series and where the story culminated, it kind of read like a prequel.

Also, also, I don’t know who had the idea first, but the magical constructs in the book were very, very similar to the villain in season 3 of Stranger Things. It’s entirely possible both ideas originated organically (much like the monsters themselves, lol), but either way the timing is quite unfortunate. Had I read this a year ago I think it would’ve come across a tad more original.

Okay, so on to the things I liked, which were plentiful. The world-building. Perhaps not completely original, but the framework for the story – an empire still suffering the after-effects of a war for power fought hundreds of years ago – set a wicked cool atmosphere with a city divided into factions, underground vies for power (often literally underground), and ongoing biases of politics. I loved the expansive feel of some of the settings and felt completely satisfied at how much Wexler helped me explore in this first book. It also added another great dynamic that the main characters fought on opposite sides of the conflict.

Another thing I liked was the overall character construction and how the author treated them. The beginning had a lot of great camaraderie, which really connected me to the characters. I like that he gave some of the minor characters a bit of a spotlight here and there because the way he did it felt unconventional. I’m not sure I liked where the story headed for many of them because I’m trying to wrap my head around what to expect in the sequel, but for this novel alone it was great.

So overall I’m battling between a rating based on comparable merit (solid 4 stars) and my own personal enjoyment of the book (3 stars). There were parts that had me glued to it mixed with others that had me wondering if I should consider a DNF. I’m going to split the difference with a 3.5 rating with the disclaimer that I think others will enjoy it a lot more than I did. It has a lot of things going for it.

Recommendations: this is a great high fantasy novel for fans of Wexler’s work. Dive in if you’re looking for great character dynamics, a cool world, and good action scenes. Maybe, just maybe, consider skipping the audio version.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [59]: July 2020

tackling the TBR

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
&
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.


Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

July 2020 TBR Tackler Shelf:

As I’m in book slump prevention mode (see my Snowball Book Slump Effect post from a few days ago), I’m simplifying my lineup this month. After some questionable reading decisions in May found me completely inundated with half-finished titles in June (that have carried over to July) I’m slowly getting myself back to normal, but recognize that I need to take things easy this month. Hence, I’m focusing on obligation titles first to get them out of the way which are Ashes of the Sun, Devils and Details, and Emerald Blaze (great titles! Just too many of them going on at once). Then the rest of the month can be devoted to The Light of all that Falls – a trilogy-ender I feel like I’ve been gearing up for these last two years. If I finish that then I’d like to start Poppy War and join a Buddy Read conversation I wanted to participate in back on June 7th (oye). It’s a good lineup, and hopefully it marks the end of my habitual struggles with getting overwhelmed by book commitments (I have a few strategies). 

Which of these titles are YOU most excited for? :)


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes