The Last Graduate: A Review

“They were saving me, and I was going to save them. It felt more like magic than magic. As though it could make everything all right. As if the whole world had become a different place.”

The Last Graduate by Naomi NovikAt the Scholomance, surviving the schoolyear is only part of the story. The real test, the final hurdle, is surviving the literal gauntlet of graduation. Every student knows the real challenges start senior year with alliances formed, weapons being tested, and the final run from the dorms through a hall filled with all of the worst magic-eating monsters waiting for the annual all-they-can-eat buffet.

This is the way it’s always been at the school. But with two once-in-a-generation talents in this year’s senior class it’s clear that things are about to change.

After spending his entire tenure at the Scholomance saving every student he can, Orion Lake is used to fighting mals and protecting everyone–often to his own detriment. With a tight rein on her own monstrous dark magic Galadriel “El” Higgins has spent the last year trying to protect Orion from himself and everything else the school has to throw at them.

Now, with senior year upon them, El has to build her alliance, prepare for graduation, and figure out if her mom’s advice to stay the hell away from Orion is prescient or just common sense. She’s going to ignore it either way, but it’s good to know when it comes to her mom’s edicts.

With no teachers or staff of any kind, the school’s motivations are always opaque but as graduation nears, it becomes clear the magical building is trying to say something to El specifically. If El listens in time it could change everything at the Scholomance–not just for this graduating class but for every wizard who will come after in The Last Graduate (2021) by Naomi Novik.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Last Graduate is the second book in Novik’s Scholomance series and picks up mere moments after the conclusion of book one A Deadly Education–start there to avoid spoilers and get the most out of this story.

There was a lot happening around the release of book one including a passage that had to be removed from the text and criticism of racist world building. My review of A Deadly Education provides links to articles detailing all of that–I decided I wanted to see how Novik built and improved on book one.

I won’t say that The Last Graduate is perfect–as a white reader I’m not the reader who needs to make that call–but I think Novik does take a lot of the potential with the world building that was baked into book one and works to do better here. Other readers may not want to give this series a second chance which is also fair.

After laying out what students–and readers–can expect from the Scholomance, Novik expertly upends all of that multiple times as not only the game but every rule is changed while El and her allies-turned-friends (or is it friends-turned-allies) prepare for graduation. Although still narrated by El, readers get to see and learn more about many characters within El’s widened social circle (most notably Aadhya and Liu).

El’s status as potentially the worst villain the magical world has ever seen is as fundamental to her character as her choice every day to fight against that destiny. This internal battle to choose to be better and do better rather than taking the easy or self-serving option is writ large as El is forced into an unexpected direction by the school itself which becomes a character in its own right in this installment.

The Last Graduate takes the raw potential of this series and makes it even better with thoughtful explorations of love, friendship, and classism within the confines of a magical adventure.

The Last Graduate is a dramatic, laugh-out-loud story where magic has sharp edges and villains can be heroes.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert; The Cruel Prince by Holly Black; All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman; Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey; An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard; Killing November by Adriana Mather; The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix; Deadly Class by Rick Remender, Wes Craig, Lee Loughridge; Carry On by Rainbow Rowell; And I Darken by Kiersten White; Fable by Adrienne Young

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