The Last Graduate takes Naomi Novik’s Scholomance series to the next level

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik. Image courtesy Penguin Random House
The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik. Image courtesy Penguin Random House /

Last year’s A Deadly Education kicked off author Naomi Novik’s new Scholomance series with a bang. One of the best fantasy books of 2020, it introduced us to a whole new kind of magical boarding school saga, one with a difficult, often unlikeable heroine and plenty of deadly monsters lurking in air shafts to eat unsuspecting students.

Second installment The Last Graduate takes the story to the next level, asking thornier moral questions, broadening its scope, and showing us an El Higgins in the midst of transformation – into a true friend, a determined leader, and maybe even someone capable of changing the world.

It’s senior year for El’s class at the Scholomance and just because she survived the magical cleansing of the graduation hall during last year’s ceremonies and made it back to take her final round of classes doesn’t mean she’s safe – or guaranteed a future. As her class stares down the barrel of their own hall full of hungry malificaria that means only a fraction of the group will survive graduation day, El must decide what she’s willing to do to make sure that she and her chosen allies make it back to the real world.

Unfortunately, the Scholomance seems to have it out for El more than ever in her final year, pushing her to her breaking point often enough to make one wonder: Does the Scholomance want El to embrace her inner dark sorceress and fulfill the prophecy that says she’s meant to destroy the enclaves of the world? Or is it trying to teach her something else in her last days as a student? And if so, what?

El’s determination to stay on the path of light – despite the constant temptation to do otherwise – is one of the best parts of her character, as is her budding realization that she has genuine friends and allies, and doesn’t have to live the sad, isolated life she’d always envisioned for herself both through and after school. Freed to share some of her emotional and spell-casting burdens, El positively blossoms – she’s still as prickly and rude and sardonic as ever, but The Last Graduate allows us to see her grow as a person in whole new ways.

Reader, I love her, is what I’m saying.

And though dreamy hero Orion Lake isn’t present in the first half of this book as much as I’d like, he remains utterly charming – and a perfect partner for El, who spends most of the book refusing to verbally admit her feelings for him even as her every action betrays her on that score. The Last Graduate also gives us an intriguing peek into Orion’s psyche by the end, in ways that make it easy to see why he’s so drawn to a girl as dark and complicated as El often is.

The action is fast-paced and nonstop as El must negotiate final alliances and help train her peers for the physical fight to come. Yet, The Last Graduate also gives us a better, more complete view of the world outside El’s immediate circle from the history and rivalries between other powerful wizarding enclaves to how those relationships force certain students to behave the way they do.

The story’s cliffhanger ending is both a gut punch and a twist you can sort of see coming a mile away, even if you’ll spend the last forty or so pages of the novel desperately hoping the thing you feel confident is about to happen somehow won’t. (It does and it’s truly rude and I need the sequel immediately, please and thank you.)

Novik’s world of the Scholomance feels more fully realized here than ever before, which may leave readers to feel – as I certainly did – that you’d happily spend a lot more time in this weird world of sentient air vent slime and kids doing their best in a world that’s asking far too much of them.

Truly one of the best fantasy series out there right now, and it’s not close.

Next. A Deadly Education is the dark, magical boarding school saga we’ve been waiting for. dark

The Last Graduate is available now. Let us know if you’re ready to go back to the Scholomance!