I felt fine. No; I felt like I’d woken up after a long sleep and had a good workout in the fresh air and a really nice stretch and was now contemplating with interest the idea of a hearty lunch. Sitting on edge in a classroom for hours surrounded by fluffy peeping freshmen waiting for one mal to pop out at me: nightmarish. Summoning a river of magma to instantly vaporize twenty-seven carefully designed attacks at once: nothing to it.
The Last Graduate, the sequel to A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, picks up right where the first book left off. We are still in the Scholomance with El and her burgeoning friendship (minus a few seniors) and she must immediately begin working on surviving her senior year. (No summer holiday at this magical school.)
I think writing in interesting ways about second books in a trilogy is one of the hardest things to do. You don’t want to give any spoilers for the first book and you don’t yet know how the third book will end things. (Although: I have my suspicions!)
So instead of writing much about the plot and characters, what I will say about The Last Graduate is how it spoke to something I have been wrestling with in my current life.
The recent dissolution and/or alteration of one of my longest-held relationships has made me question every aspect of myself as a decent, functioning human being with value to the world.
So reading more of El’s adventures, as she discovers that some of her “evil sorceress” traits might actually be helpful? Well, that gave me a pause in my self-loathing. It made me take a little breath and ease up on berating myself; it found me some space to question whether I am the abhorrent problem or if this is something else.
And that is something I love about reading speculative fiction. Sure, it’s all a made-up, impossible world, but the good ones aren’t just about magic or fairies or doors between worlds. They are about how wherever you find yourself as a human being, you are a human being (even if you are potentially able to destroy the world with your evil-sorceress panache). And, in this case, figuring out how your true self can (or cannot) interact with people you want to trust.
Plus it was just a good story, and El’s machinations for saving other students, her process of learning how to work with other people within the scope of her own El-ness, gave me a sense of courage I didn’t have before.
And that cliffhanger!
I’m excitedly anticipating the end to this trilogy this autumn.