In this second installment of Novik's Scholomance series, El, Orion and the other wizardry students are faced with their final year and the looming specter of matriculation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive. El is determined that her group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up.
... a rollercoaster ride of monster attacks, betrayals, unexpected friendships, surprise revelations, and madcap schemes. El is a delightful combination of irascibility and self-sacrifice, insolence and bravery, someone who says all the wrong things and irritates everyone around her but is ultimately willing to die to save them all. She’s her own worst enemy, sabotaging all her friendships, but to the reader, who sees her true nature and can relate to her flaws, she’s intensely likable. A series about a wizarding school can hardly escape mention of Harry Potter, but Novik’s Scholomance series holds up to the comparison. The world is as creative, the characters as likable, the plot as compulsively readable. The Scholomance series may be darker, and at a fraction of the size, it covers less territory, but fans of Rowling’s books will find much to like here. The plot barrels along at an intense pace, straight into graduation and a shocking cliffhanger of an ending. The last line of the novel will leave readers gasping, desperate for the third book of the trilogy to find out what happens next.
... it’s a socialist wizards narrative built entirely on the magic of show, don’t tell—a pretty sharp contrast to the Potter books’ largely aimless optimism ... All this and it features a solid will-they/won’t-they plotline and the same sharp world-building and narrative voice that made A Deadly Education such a delight. Admittedly, the focus on El coming into her power robs some of The Last Graduate of the desperation that made its predecessor so hooky; by rendering the main character’s situation less horrific through personal growth, Novik saps the sequel of some of its, well, horror. But for fans who devoured the first book...her ability to combine pointed commentary with one of the more engaging first-person narrators in recent memory ensures the sophomore Scholomance book will be as refreshing, if slightly less harrowing, as the first.
The Last Graduate is really not the book to start with, should an unsuspecting reader pick it up by accident. For this book to make sense, you need to know how brutal the school is, especially when you are a young wizard with no alliances and a lot working against you, like our protagonist El ... While there are moments where Novik bogs down a bit in the nuts-and-bolts of how the Scholomance works and details about the many mals who can kill, the story is one that rips along like a force of nature. In the abstract, this is a story about relying on others—but in the concrete, it is about how to survive when the odds are against you. As she did with the first book, Novik changes the game again with the very last line.