Stars: 5 out of 5
This is an excellent continuation of the Scholomance series. It picks up moments after the end of book one and its ominous warning and leaves El and her friends with a plethora of new problems. The most pressing of which is getting ready for graduation. They all know what is waiting for them down in the graduation hall and that not all of them will make it out alive. It’s time to form alliances and play your cards right. Because surviving graduation is only the first step. If you are lucky enough, you might also get a spot in an enclave after.
I loved El’s character growth in this book. Her slow realization that she had friends she can rely on. And her bigger realization that surviving graduation on her own isn’t enough anymore. She also wants to make sure her friends survive. And most of the other graduates as well, even if some of them are from enclaves, but she is finding out that they are good people after all, flawed, entitles, clueless as to how life is for non-enclavers, but not intrinsically bad.
It was also interesting to see her progressively feel more and more responsible for the first years that she had to have classes with. To come to the realization that they would have to deal with graduation as well in four years, and that the cleaning measures they had repaired might break again before their graduation. And if that happened, they would have to face a room full of hungry mals and no El or Orion to protect them… El is finally learning how to care about people other than herself and it’s a wonderful thing to see. That’s character growth at its best.
The stakes felt real in this book as well. Graduation is coming whether our characters want it or not, and they have to work together to survive it. I loved how this idea slowly dawned on everybody and how people finally started cooperating. And that when El came up with her insane plan, mostly everyone backed her up. Granted, the fact that the Scholomance itself was actively encouraging them to be useful was a good inciting factor as well.
Speaking of the Scholomance, loved the revelation that the school was, if not sentient, then at least aware. That all these years, it’s been trying to fulfill its purpose the best it could, even with failing security measures and cleaning spells in the graduation hall. Even if that meant mercilessly training the kids in its charge so that they stood at least a chance to survive graduation. Even if that meant paring the week and feeding them to the mals, so that the strong had a better chance at making it out alive. I mean what an impossible conundrum – it’s tasked to protect all the gifted children of the world… and is forced to make tough choices to protect at least some of them.
The ending was heartbreaking. I really hope that we haven’t seen the last of Orion. On a different note, I love that this didn’t evolve like the typical YA love story. In fact, romantic interests are the least of our characters problems in this series so far. Sure, they pair up, do the typical teenage things, but it’s not the focus of the story, and I’m glad about it.
All in all, I’m loving this series so far. It’s a well-constructed world with complex characters that you can’t help but empathize with.