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Fantasy Friday – The Last Graduate

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


THE LAST GRADUATE is the second in Novik’s YA Scholomance series, an excellent entry in what I’m now calling the “wizard school fantasy genre” . You should have read the first book (A DEADLY EDUCATION) in order to make sense of it. And really, If you like semi-gritty fantasy, you should read it – forget Harry Potter, he had it way too easy.

In the first book, we were introduced to Galadriel (she hates that name, call her El). El is an angry loner teen with a ton of dark power who is absolutely, completely, no matter what,  determined that she will never use. She will never become a maleficer (dark wizard) and never, ever, live down to the prophecy her paternal grandmother has pronounced upon her.

But here she is in the Scholomance, a school for wizard teens, where there are no adults, no teachers, and the lessons are almost as dangerous as the monsters roaming the school.  Politics and backstabbing abound, alliances shift rapidly, as the kids all maneuver for a place in the safety of the Enclaves after graduation. But less than half of the seniors actually make it out –  monsters fill the graduation hall waiting for them to enter. Most of the senior year is spent practicing their fighting skills.  And this is supposed to be safer for wizard kids than the outside world!  Using dark magic would be so easy. She could guarantee her survival – but she’s not going to use that talent.

In THE LAST GRADUATE, El has made it to her senior year. She has an alliance who she can actually call friends, and one of them has given her a familiar (may I just say that I love little Precious?) She has a boyfriend, even if she’s not calling it that. She has almost gotten what she wanted, which was a spot in one of the Enclaves. If she can survive this year, she’s done it. But El’s class schedule is impossible, and there’s no way to change it. She can’t possibly complete the assignments she’s given, and if she can’t, she’ll probably die.  She’s received a short cryptic note from her mother, a warning against her boyfriend. Thanks to last year’s events, there are fewer monsters in the school, but all of them are after her and if she can’t defend herself, she’ll die.  She’s stuck in a study class with a bunch of freshmen who are now put at additional risk because of her. They might die. El is coming to a realization that the Scholomance has heretofore unexpected sentience, and it’s now focused on her.
Novik has done a great job of showing El’s growth. She’s found people to care about, people who like her for who she is and not just her abilities. She’s willing now to ask for help, and she can accept that other people might do a better job than she does. She can forgive. Throughout the whole book drums the idea of injustice and privilege. Those with privilege will probably live. They have used and abused others all their lives without thinking about it. El accepted it, she thought she would work within it, but things change. Now El is forcing the privileged to think about what they’ve taken and what they might owe.  El is going to make a decision that will change everything, and she needs all of them to sign on. There is a lovely little twist right about then too, just to force El into extra persuasion.

My main gripe about the book is how long-winded El is. Oh so much inner dialogue!  Pages and pages of exposition on various types of monsters, thousands of them, and history, how the spells work, what she thinks about Orion, how she’s going to manage.. Lots of action in this book interspersed with long sections about things breeding in the showerheads or how to protect yourself in the cafeteria. Too much telling without showing. But when you get to the action you’ll be on the edge of your seat.

Just so you’re prepared, THE LAST GRADUATE ends on a major cliffhanger. I figured it would, just based on how the last book ended, and it’s pretty shocking. But don’t let that put you off, it’s still a great read.




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