After writing what is arguably the most famous fairytale retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, comes Naomi Novik’s new series of epic proportions, “The Scholomance” trilogy.
The story follows Galadriel Higgins, a daughter of a famous magical healer, who gets thrown into a demonic, sentient school, which aims at doubling the survival rates of every growing wizard in this universe.
What draws readers in is not just the way Novik uses language as a basis for spells or the detailed world-building, but the way she frames her characters in general.
Higgins is someone who is prophesied to have all the power in the world to murder all wizarding enclaves, whereas Orion Lake, a character that shares similar powers as Higgins, is said to be the savior of enclaves with the same power magnitude.
What’s interesting is the way the author breaks down both of their identities to a central point – that despite their different upbringings, they are expected to do revolutionary things. The irony is that Higgins and Lake do not want to do anything, despite their world-dominating prophecies.
So, the readers follow this trail and delve into the characters’ identities as martyrs in their own communities, all while reading the most hilarious monologues from Higgins herself. Showing that despite her assumed identity as “the world-ending witch,” she still wants to separate herself from her fate and be her own person, against everyone’s expectations.
My only issue with this was that Novik never went deeper into the concept of “nobody is born bad,” other than when Higgins chooses to do certain things because she was raised “right.” There are no additional perceptions that might have explained more as to why she was motivated to help people. Especially with Higgins’ traumas, the readers might expect more exploration of her being defined as an “evil” person given that it has a massive impact in the series.
Instead, Novik talks a lot about race-wealth disparities and governmental conflicts with none of their nuances. In particular, racial and wealth disparities systematically developed overtime. The lack of this analysis within cultures weakens the acceptance argument the whole series aims to make.
On top of that, Novik has a history of being tone-deaf when it comes to discussing such topics in this series. Multiple issues, from cultural significance to racial ignorance, lead to certain parts of the writing to come off as incredibly offensive. When a book markets itself as anti-racist, it’s not only the author’s job, but also her entire team of editors’, who should have vetted this series thoroughly before publishing it.
Regardless, Novik resolved this issue by revoking the criticized parts and issued an apology, which is a good precedent in the authorship community.
I’m not saying that this absolves her of her racial stances in this trilogy because there could have been more exploration and studies done to make it a more cohesive race-class argument. However, given that this book primarily studied class and wealth disparities and how complex the book was, I think it has still done a good job.
Overall, I thought “The Scholomance” trilogy had good ideas but a downward execution throughout the series. The concept of inherent badness and race-wealth disparity was central to the books, but without the in-depth exploration of either of them, the gritty morality this storyline wanted to serve was downplayed as a result.
As such, this series is a 3/5 for me. It didn’t provide enough in-depth details to give the book great strengths, but it wasn’t shallow enough that it lacked matter for the audience. I simply found it okay, and that’s good enough.