Book Review : The Last Graduate

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : The Last GraduateThe Last Graduate (The Scholomance, #2) by Naomi Novik
Published by Del Rey Books on September 28th 2021
Pages: 368
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three-stars
Source: NetGalley

A budding dark sorceress determined not to use her formidable powers uncovers yet more secrets about the workings of her world in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education, the start of Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking crossover series.
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 . . .

The Last Graduate is the follow up to A Deadly Education. Both entries in the series so far follow Galadriel, known as “El,” and her attempts to survive schooling in a magical school known as the Scholomance. All young wizards are crammed in this competitive school in England to survive the many maleficarias  or “mals,” who are attracted by the mana of young wizards and wish to feast on them. This year, El is a senior, and has to prepare for the most deadly part of her education yet—graduation. Though The Last Graduate has the same quirky and sarcastic narration by El, as well as the same setting, I found that The Last Graduate just didn’t work for me quite as well as its predecessor.

 

Instead of taking delight in El’s long-winded diatribes about magic, enclaves, maleficarias, or the Scholomance, I found I was incredibly tempted to skim a lot of these descriptions in my read through. Instead of being charming, I found these monologues tedious and incessant; El can literally find anything to dump information about and she certainly doesn’t do it concisely. And most of these things that she endlessly describes aren’t even that pertinent to the story at large or the situation at hand. I am a big highlighter when I read, but to my frustration, it was almost impossible to highlight a mere sentence or two with what I thought might be important later, because all of the sentences of The Last Graduate are incredibly long, usually looking like whole paragraphs. To my dismay, I often ended up with whole pages highlighted. 

 

Now, I’m sure this is the exact same writing style as A Deadly Education, which I gave four stars. So why did it bother me so much in The Last Graduate? I think a big portion of my dislike of the writing style in The Last Graduate came down to the fact that the novelty of the world had worn off for me. I was already familiar with the Scholomance, the magical world, and the maleficaria. Plus, El now had friends and people to talk to, but was still going off on these crazy lectures to the reader about how enclave wars worked, or how food got to the cafeteria in the Scholomance, or why you shouldn’t use bean bag chairs in dorm rooms. And like I said, none of these explanations were short and many of them didn’t feel very important. Plus, not much was going on in The Last Graduate, as maleficarias aren’t attacking as much, and all of the students are focused on one thing and one thing only for the entirety of the novel: graduation.

 

“I don’t think anyone really knew what to do with themselves. We’ve all spent the best part of four years training as hard as we could to be inhumanely selfish in a way we could only possibly live with because all of us were going round in fear for our lives—if not in the next five minutes then on graduation day at the latest—and you could tell yourself everyone was doing the same and there wasn’t any other choice. The Scholomance had encouraged it if anything.”*

 

I think my other issue with The Last Graduate was that El was no longer an outcast. Instead, it became widely accepted in the entire school that El is the only way the students have any chance of making it out of graduation alive. I think I just personally related to El more when she was a loner or a loner with one or two friends. It was a lot to wrap my head around how quickly someone who was almost universally despised became the most desired alliance member in the entire school, with pretty small amounts of resistance. And El seemingly took on this new role with relative ease, deciding she will save every last student of the Scholomance. Her hero complex soon became even bigger than Orion Lake’s, who we learn is really just more about killing maleficarias than saving everyone. 

 

“I’d been ready to go down to the graduation hall and fight for my life; I’d been ready to fight for the lives of everyone I knew, for the chance of a future. I didn’t need this much more to lose.”

 

Though El still got frustrated sometimes, there’s less sarcasm, outward disgust at weakness, and a lot less of the angry, snarky character I liked in the first novel. I also could not decide if it was in character or out of character for El to ignore her mother’s advice to stay away from Orion Lake. One part of me thought, “yeah, El doesn’t listen to anyone,” but also the other part of me considered that El has always been first and foremost concerned with survival and would never make these kinds of illogical decisions. El also worries frequently (and rightly so), what giving in to her feelings will cost her, and even tries not to be alone with Orion because she doesn’t trust herself not to act on her feelings for him. So when she finally gave in, it didn’t feel like she was making the right decision. I feel that if Orion and El hadn’t acted on their feelings until after graduation, it would have shown that they cared more about each other surviving and their lives together after graduation. Instead, any act of love felt cheap and convenient, with the excuse that they were afraid they were going to die. This was really frustrating to me, because notably El’s dad actually died, during graduation, after getting El’s mom pregnant. So I feel that El should have the brains not to repeat her mother’s mistakes.

 

“I came in here and I’ve survived in here being sensible all the time, trying to always do the cleverest thing I could manage, to see al the clear and sharp-edged dangers from every angle, so I could just barely squeeze past them without losing too much blood. I could never afford look past survival, especially not for anything as insanely expensive and useless as happiness, and I don’t believe in it anyways. I’m too good at being hard, I’ve got so good at it, and I wasn’t going to go soft all of a sudden now.”

 

But there’s not a lot of learning from example going on with El, which disappointed me. After deliberating, I came to the conclusion that it made some sense for a teenager, who thinks they may not make it alive out of graduation, to throw caution to the wind.. However, I lost a lot of respect for El in her developing relationship with Orion Lake, merely because she stopped thinking with her head and was acting with her heart. As a whole, El was a lot less “intimidating dark sorceress who could destroy the world” and more “typical teenager in love for the first time and making stupid decisions, who just happens to have a lot of magical power.” 

 

Despite being less thrilled with El’s characterization and her relationship with Orion, I still really enjoyed her friendship with Liu and Aadyha. I also really liked that El was forced to get to know a lot of her classmates when working with them to survive graduation. My favorite character by far was the ruthless and abrasive Liesel, who seemed to fill the hole left behind El’s transformation into a possible and very willing martyr. I laughed out loud a lot when Liesel was barking orders, forging alliances, teaching El the proper way to compliment someone in order to forge said alliance, and so on. I hope that this is not the last time I see this character, or someone like her, because she was such a riot. 

 

Less of a riot for me was the shocking cliffhanger ending of The Last Graduate. I even tried to turn the page for more, because I didn’t think The Last Graduate could possibly end on such an abrupt, surprising note. I haven’t definitively decided how I feel about the cliffhanger yet: I’m somewhere between respect to the author, Naomi Novik, for having the guts to end her novel so recklessly and frustration that The Last Graduate ended where and how it did. I can’t believe I have to wait however long until the next novel comes out in the series to find out what happens. This ending cut off The Last Graduate before I could find out what I most want to know from the series, such as, but not limited to these following questions:

 

Will El really destroy all of the enclaves? And will it be with dark magic, or the fact that she’s magically united everyone by her actions in The Last Graduate?

Will El see her friends again?

Will El’s mom ever approve of Orion?

Is there a better way to keep young wizards safe? 

What will El do outside of the Scholomance?

What really happened to the Bangkok Enclave?

Does Precious really have any powers?

 

I can only hope that a follow up to The Last Graduate will answer these questions and the many others that I have that aren’t spoiler free. Even though the ending was incredibly unexpected and jarring, I think it did increase my interest in reading the next novel, as I found I was woefully indifferent to or undecided on a lot of the events that happened in The Last Graduate. I just hope that it is unlike the ending to A Deadly Education, which felt like a pretty big tease due to the fact that that novel left off at El receiving her mother’s warning to stay away from Orion Lake, only for him to not cause any trouble for most, or all of The Last Graduate (depending on how you view it).

 

I also could not help but to feel that there wasn’t a whole lot of substance to this novel in other regards as well, as all the characters constantly were focused on preparing for graduation. Though this made sense with what was at stake, it sadly meant that most of The Last Graduate felt solely like filler or mere build up for the next entry in the Scholomance series. And the cliffhanger didn’t help with those feelings, as the novel cut off literally seconds before the next part of El’s journey could begin.  However, if you enjoyed A Deadly Education, you will most likely get a kick out of this next chapter in El’s story, even if a lot of the new series shine has worn off in this sequel. 

 

*All quotes subject to change at publication.

 

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three-stars
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Book Review : The Last Graduate - Blogging with Dragons

Posted July 12, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Young Adult

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