You Couldn’t Pay Me to Put It Down: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

Posted 13th August 2021 by Siavahda in Fantasy Reviews, Reviews / 4 Comments

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance, #2) by Naomi Novik
Representation: Biracial Desi MC, secondary Desi and Chinese characters, minor M/M
Published on: 28th September 2021
Genres: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
ISBN: 0593128877
Goodreads
five-stars

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 . . .

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

Highlights

~you can be addicted to monster-hunting, actually
~mice make the best chaperones
~prickly cactus girl continues to have Feelings and Does Not Like It
~“Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind. Or forgotten.” is a VIBE
~when the system tries to break you, break the system

Spoilers ahead for A Deadly Education! Please don’t read on if you haven’t read the first book!

Reader, I finished The Last Graduate in a single day.

I forgot to drink and I ignored the bathroom. I turned off my computer and my phone to prevent any interruptions. I ignored work (fortunately, it was a slow work day). If the hubby hadn’t pushed a bowl of dinner into my lap I wouldn’t have eaten – and as it was I ate one-handed, so I could use my other to hold up the book and keep reading.

Putting it down – taking myself away from the story even for a moment – was simply not an option.

A Deadly Education seemed to be a love-it-or-hate-it book, with the deciding factor being El’s first-person narration. I loved it; I found it incredibly compelling, and I adored El herself. And I adored her even more throughout The Last Graduate, as we followed her along what’s clearly a carefully planned out character-arc, one that I found so painfully believable and heartbreaking and hopeful all at once.

The book opens with El in a much better position than she was in at the beginning of Education; she has an alliance with brilliant artificer Aadhya and ex-maleficer Liu, and a priceless spellbook containing, among other things, the spells for creating the all-important enclaves whose existence and ownership are at the heart of every aspect of wizard society. She and Orion, the golden boy of the New York enclave and legendary monster-slayer, are friends, with the tentative agreement to have a go at being more than friends if they both make it out of the school. And there’s Chloe, another New York enclaver, who is not quite a friend, but is waking up to the fact that the incredible privilege she’s known as an enclaver isn’t fair, and comes at a very, very steep cost for people who are not her.

Considering that El has never had anyone willingly spend time with her except for her mum, this is A Lot.

The Last Graduate covers what should be El’s last year at the Scholomance; she and her friends have survived to be seniors. But the hard work’s really just begun, because once they complete their finals, every last minute has to go into training with their alliances, facing off against the ever-changing obstacle course in the gym in the hope that their preparation will get them through graduation day alive. None of them know for sure whether the previous year’s seniors made it out, whether the graduation hall has been cleansed – for the first time in a century – of monsters, or whether all those rabidly-starving mals are still down there and waiting. And as the icing on the cake, the Scholomance seems to be out to get El specifically, giving her a deadly class schedule, trying to trick her into being stuck learning a new language at the last minute, and throwing every mal it has at her.

But.

I really want to call The Last Graduate a hopepunk book, because although the Scholomance seems designed to pit students against each other – to discourage friendship, love, sharing, genuine emotional connections of all kinds – to instil a survival first and only mentality in everyone who enters its doors – The Last Graduate is very much about flipping that fucking table. As incredible (and addictive) as A Deadly Education was, it was pretty heavy on the despair; The Last Graduate is about refusing to give in to despair, even when despair lays you out over and over. It’s about giving the system a finger, both the system that is trying to kill you, and the system that is trying to seduce you with safety and luxury and never having to be hurt again. And it is about the grit-your-teeth-till-they-break, dig-in-your-heels-till-they-bleed determination to make things better, no matter what it costs you.

It’s also about a prickly cactus learning that she really isn’t a cactus at all, that she wants to be good and has a heart made of caramel, actually. That she’s allowed to ask for help. That she has value.

That maybe everyone has value, actually.

(And what the fuck are you supposed to do with that, when you’ve been training yourself from day one not to care for the people around you, because if you care it just means you’ll be destroyed when the monster-school you’re all in kills them?)

It’s really hard to talk about this book without giving away massive spoilers; all the twists and turns, all the reveals, are absolutely incredible, but you should go in not knowing what they are. I can’t talk about the incredible subversions Novik pulls, all the things that made me want to punch the air and cheer. There is so much that is darkly, or not-so-darkly, hilarious; there is Precious, who I defy you not to adore; there are so many moments that are humbling, that will bring you to tears. Your heart will pound so fast, and you will scream, and you will want to shake some characters and jump up and down screaming with delight with others. You will be so proud of them; you will be so scared for them; you will be at the edge of your seat and I will be stunned if you can put this book down – as I said, I couldn’t. Not even for a minute.

If you loved A Deadly Education? Then you will love The Last Graduate. It really is that simple. I will be stunned if you don’t love it more than A Deadly Education – I did, do, and I didn’t think that was possible. If you liked El in the previous book, you will adore her in this one. If you hated the Scholomance, you need to read this book. If you want to see what happens with the familiars, with Orion, with the mals, with El’s alliance – you need to read this book. If you want to understand the threat and the promise that is that title – The Last Graduate, indeed – you need to read this book.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to sit here and SCREAM until we get book three!

five-stars

4 responses to “You Couldn’t Pay Me to Put It Down: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

  1. Great review! I’ve got a copy of this from NetGalley, too, and you’re making me want to pick it up right away. I love that you described this as hopepunk – there is a lot of despair in the first book, and it does what the book is, but it’s good to know there is some kind of silver lining in the second book.

    • Thank you! And yes, it took me by surprise too – I kind of had to work myself up to reading it, because I was dreading how dark it was going to be. And it is dark! Hopepunk doesn’t mean nice, you know? There has to be something awful to be hopepunk about. But there is such a silver lining, and I s2g just thinking about it makes me tear up with happy!tears. IT’S SO GOOD.

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