Monday, 13 February 2023

CBR15 Book 7: "The Last Graduate" by Naomi Novik

Page count: 388 pages
Audio book length: 13hrs 27 mins
Rating: 5 stars

CBR Passport Challenge: Books Recommended by Friends

This is the second book in a trilogy. It doesn't really make sense if you've not read the series from the beginning. So if you're not caught up, go read A Deadly Education. It's great, I'll wait.

El and Orion are now seniors in the Scholomance, and they have absolutely no way of knowing if their very dangerous mission just before graduation to fix the furnaces worked. Did they manage to clear the graduation hall of the majority of maleficaria ahead of the former senior class' exit, or did all the graduates get horribly eaten? Is the machinery going to fail before their own graduation in a year's time, or will this be a problem for one of the classes at some point in the future?

El, who has spent her entire life as a loner, is surprised to find that she has actual friends and allies in the school and that despite having criticised Orion for a year for risking his life to save others, she is now almost daily expending a ton of magic trying to keep the freshmen students she shares a classroom with from being killed by mals. Orion, on the other hand, is getting more and more frustrated. Despite trying to hunt down mals in his spare time, there don't appear to really be any, except for all the ones coming to try to kill El, and those directly around her. 

El spends the first six months of her senior year trying to pass her exams, keep Orion from getting killed because he keeps neglecting his own studies and fend off all the vicious threats that the school seems intent on sending her way. She also can't forget that while the cleaning furnaces hopefully killed off a lot of mals pre-graduation last year, there's still a whole year for the graduation hall to fill up again, and she and her fellow seniors need to train incessantly to make sure they're in good shape to fight the monsters and make it out alive. The graduating class is much bigger than it has ever been, thanks to Orion's tireless efforts for the past three years of killing mals and rescuing people. Normally, only about half of any given year's graduates get out. Will the added numbers of seniors mean more likely survivors or just an even higher death toll come graduation day since there is no way for everyone to make it to the doors unharmed? Or is there?

I am so very glad that I waited until this trilogy was completed to read The Last Graduate. If I had been forced to wait a whole year after finishing this book to find out what happened next, I would not have handled it well. A Deadly Education was really good. A wonderfully acerbic and hostile protagonist, a great cast of supporting characters, very creative world-building, and an interesting magic system. As dangerous supernatural boarding schools go, the Scholomance is about as fiendish as I can remember reading about, and El's journey from an angry and distrustful outcast to someone with a solid set of friends and a vague hope of a better future was a delight to read. Then came this and surpassed all of my expectations, leaving me emotionally wrung out once I finished the last page. The final act of book 1 was impressive, but the final act of book 2 was on a whole other level. 

This series would not be as enjoyable and addictive if El was the only one worth reading about. Thankfully, there are so many other characters to also obsess over. Orion, who sucks at social interactions and only wants to kill monsters (he has a serious Sam Winchester energy, which does not lessen as this book goes on - you have been warned). Aadhya and Liu, who by the end of this book are pretty much ride or die for our El, and rightly so. Even Chloe, who seemed rather clueless in the last book becomes a valuable friend to our group of misfits. In this book, we are also introduced to Liesl, the valedictorian, who isn't exactly likable, but funny and kind of awesome with her extreme efficiency and abilities to problem solve that none of our other band of doomed graduates can rival. I just wanted to hug them all and keep them safe from the horrors they kept having to face and worry about.

It's really hard to review this book and attempt to remain spoiler-free. There are so many awesome things I want to gush about, but I went into this book knowing pretty much nothing except that it ended on a very unsatisfying cliffhanger, and it was such a great ride. Even though I own the book in paperback, I ended up listening to most of the book in audio, as with A Deadly Education. Anisha Dadia does an excellent job of narrating, and making the various characters feel distinct and separate for me. This time, however, once I got about 80% in, I didn't have the patience to listen any longer (even listening at x1.5, I read way faster than the narrator) and I needed to get to the end fast. 

I'm so grateful to Naomi Novik for writing these books. I really liked Uprooted and Spinning Silver, but I adore the two Scholomance books. Now that the series is completed, I can wholeheartedly recommend the series to anyone who likes clever paranormal fantasy.

Judging a book by its cover: I like the simplicity of these covers, with a plain background and some mystical sigils and stuff in gold. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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