A Deadly Education was my favourite book of last year, gaining an unprecedented eleven out of five cats – and the sequel is just as brilliant!
Book: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik
Publication date: 28th September 2021
Ownership: Proof copy sent free of charge by Del Rey Books. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Violence including murder, injuries, gore, many gross ways to die, and minor character death (none of this terribly graphic); black magic including using life force of others mentioned; suicide mentioned in the abstract; parental death mentioned.
At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year–and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . .
My usual disclaimer about sequels applies – I’ll be as spoiler-free as I can, but discussing a sequel inherently tells you something about previous books, even if it’s only who’s alive, so if you haven’t read A Deadly Education yet, consider yourself warned. You should go back and read my rave review, then read the book, then come back!
I was apprehensive on starting The Last Graduate, almost sure that I’d hyped myself up too far, or that it wouldn’t live up to the standard of the first, or that I’d imagined the standard of the first… but I needn’t have worried. Within two pages, I was completely sucked back into El’s voice and the story as if I’d never left off – it starts seconds after that cliffhanger! – and before I knew it, I’d devoured a hundred pages. When I paused to look up for the first time, I immediately texted all my reading buddies to yell about how good it was! I think I said in my review of A Deadly Education that I’ve never identified with a character more than El, or at least I felt it a lot, and slipping back into her perspective was so smooth that I honestly didn’t notice myself reading this as a book. It felt almost like reading an old diary, like it was something I already recognised, but not in a boring or predictable way, just a sense of rightness with the telling – I’m probably explaining this badly, but what I mean is that if you click with this writing as much as I did, the reading experience is utterly seamless. It’s so immersive and characterful.
This book offers so much of an expansion on the characters we’ve come to love and the Scholomance itself. A lot of the major worldbuilding has already been done in the first book, but here we get more new monsters, more locations within the school, and more class schedules (seriously, I live for this kind of worldbuilding). We also get deeper looks at the magical world outside the Scholomance, and the kind of politics that await the survivors of the graduating class, because now, in their final year, El and her classmates can finally start to think about more than just surviving the immediate attacks. As El slowly stops resisting the lure of having friends, we get to see more moments from everyone, and the relationships became one of my favourite parts of the book. Towards the end (no spoilers!) I may have shed a tear or two just because of how proud I was of them all, but especially El, for learning to trust one another. Those of you on the hook to know what’s going on with a certain cinnamon roll bent on heroism, rest assured that there’s plenty of great Orion content, and his relationship with El was just brilliantly done. I loved getting to scratch his shiny surface a bit and see the darkness underneath; what a great foil to our destined-for-evil-but-secretly-a-bit-nice heroine.
Gosh, everything about this just sang to me – I want to dive into so many specifics, but I don’t want to spoil anything! Suffice to say, if you fell in love with the first book, you’ll be deeply satisfied with this (but desperate for book three). I can’t recommend this series highly enough if you, like me, love snarky, powerful girls and really meticulous worldbuilding where you actually get to see behind the scenes of a magical school. It’s fantastic. I’m reigning it in on the extra cats for the sake of inflation, but it’s for sure a five out of five, and just as wonderful as book one!