Tag Archives: dark academia

Triple Play: More YA

A Deadly EducationA Deadly Education
by Naomi Novick
Rating: ★★★½
Series: The Scholomance #1
Publication Date: September 29, 2020
Genre: supernatural, YA
Pages: 336
Project: halloween bingo

A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.

There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.

El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.

I read this book for my Dark Academia square, which is one of my favorite literary tropes. This one was an interesting take on the legend of the “scholomance,” which is a fabled school of black magic in Romania, especially the region of Transylvania, built and run by the devil. The MC, El (Galadriel – yes, her mom is the sort of witch who names her daughter Galadriel) is a witch who is basically prophesied as the witch who is likely to destroy the world with her magic. The Scholomance itself is a place of desperate risk, where child-eating monsters roam the corridors and the students regularly die. Graduation essentially involves running the gauntlet of hungry monsters after 4 years worth of prep, and by design not everyone makes it through.

And man, she does have some strong magic. Everything she does, whether she intends to do it for good, more or less turns to evil. She asks for a spell to clean her dishes, she gets a spell that incinerates the kitchen. Dishes are clean, though, right?

In addition, being around her is a stressful, unhappy experience for her peers – just being in the same room with her is unpleasant. This has the effect of making El into a misanthrope – she hates pretty much everyone as a defensive mechanism, i.e., you can’t hate me, I hate you first.

However, this book has a sequel, and as the story progresses it seems that, maybe, everything is not as dire as it seems. I’m intrigued enough that I want to read the sequel, but not intrigued enough to buy it. It’s on hold at my library.

The Wide StarlightThe Wide Starlight
by Nicole Lesperance
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: February 16, 2021
Genre: fantasy, supernatural
Pages: 320
Project: halloween bingo

Never whistle at the Northern Lights, the legend goes, or they'll sweep down from the sky and carry you away.

Sixteen-year-old Eline Davis knows it's true. She was there ten years ago, on a frozen fjord in Svalbard, Norway, the night her mother whistled at the lights and then vanished.

Now, Eli lives an ordinary life with her dad on Cape Cod. But when the Northern Lights are visible over the Cape for just one night, she can't resist the possibility of seeing her mother again. So she whistles--and it works. Her mother appears, with snowy hair, frosty fingertips and a hazy story of where she's been all these years. And she doesn't return alone.

Along with Eli's mother's reappearance come strange, impossible things. Narwhals swimming in Cape Cod Bay, meteorites landing in Eli's yard, and three shadowy princesses with ominous messages. It's all too much, too fast, and Eli pushes her mother away. She disappears again--but this time, she leaves behind a note that will send Eli on a journey across continents, to the northern tip of the world:

I read this book for A Grimm Tale, although I initially hoped that it would work for Lost in Space. It really didn’t. This book has a gorgeous cover, which is basically why I selected it, along with the intriguing summary.

I have mixed feelings about the execution, though. It used several Norse fairy tales as a springboard for the story, including one of my favorites, East of Sun, West of the Moon. I’ve read several retellings of that fairy tale previously, all of which I ultimately like better than this one. These include: East by Edith Pattou, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George and Ice by Sarah Beth Durst.

This is a debut novel by Nicole Lesperance, and she definitely has potential. I’ll watch her career with interest, although this book itself didn’t 100% work for me.

Aurora RisingAurora Rising
by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff
Rating: ★★★
Series: Aurora Rising #
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Genre: sci fi, YA
Pages: 473
Project: halloween bingo

The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the Academy would touch…

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm
A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates
A smart-ass techwiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder
An alien warrior with anger management issues
A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline-cases and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

This is the second YA science fiction collaboration between Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff that I have read, as back in 2018 I read their entire Illuminae trilogy in hardback. That was a really, really interesting format – not a graphic novel, but lots of illustrations to augment the texts. This one is a more straightforward narrative, that starts at the Aurora Academy, which is basically a military training program that sorts the students into various sub-specialties. Tyler Jones, the star pupil of the Academy leaves the Academy the night before the process by which squads are selected on an unsanctioned rescue mission. Being first in his class, he should have the pick of the program for his squad, but because he’s late returning, he ends up with several students that no one else wanted.

And there it is. We have our rag-tag band of heroes. The only that the book needs is a rogue secret mission where no one really knows what is going on, and especially not our heroes. Which is what comes next, and it’s a lot of fun. There’s excitement, diplomacy, a Guardians of the Galaxy style heist, and the loss of an important squad member.

I’m not a huge sci fi fan, so 3 stars from me for a sci fi book is actually a really solid rating. In the absence of the “Lost in Space” square, I would not have read this book. But, one of the things that I really enjoy about playing Halloween Bingo is that it forces me out of my Golden Age mystery/vintage women fiction rut. I pick up more of the “hot” or “current” releases in the months of September and October than probably the remaining ten months combined (that’s probably an overstatement, but not by a lot).

This basically wraps up my Halloween bingo months – there were other books that didn’t make it into a review, but I’m ready to move on, so we’ll leave it at that!

Halloween Bingo: Dark Academia & Paint It Black

This post covers two, two, two squares in one!

It wasn’t until I came up with the Dark Academia square (Any mystery, horror, suspense or supernatural book that occurs at a school – boarding school, high school, university, college, etc.) for Halloween Bingo that it occurred to me how much I love books with academic settings. I must not be alone here – given how many of them there are, this must be a fairly beloved literary trope.

  • I read Death in Holy Orders by P.D. James last year, and really enjoyed it. It is set in a rather unusual theological seminary on the East Anglian Coast. The book combined the “academic” setting with another element that I love – the isolated, windswept coastal setting. I can’t get enough of books with these themes!
  • In 2019, I read The Cat Among The Pigeons by Agatha Christie. This book is set at a very traditionally untraditional English girl’s school – Meadowbank – and combines murder mystery and political thriller elements. It features some of my favorite side-characters, including Julia Upjohn, the very clever student who solves the mystery and outwits the killer, and Miss Bulstrode, the headmistress. As an aside, the adaptation of this novel for the BBC Poirot series is outstanding, with the always incredible Harriet Walters playing Miss Bulstrode.

And speaking of Harriet Walters, Ms. Walters previously performed the role of Harriet Vane in Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey series. I have never (re)read Gaudy Night, the 10th Wimsey mystery, specifically for this square but that book may be the quintessence of the perfect academic mystery, and I recommend it to absolutely everyone.

This square debuted in either the 2018 or the 2019 game, and I’ve only had it on my card twice previously. I have read additional books set in schools for other squares, including: Some of Us Are Lying (Karen McManus); several of the Harry Potter books (J.K. Rowling), Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Ransom Riggs), Down a Dark Hall (Lois Duncan), Truly Devious and The Name of the Star (both by Maureen Johnson), and Etiquette and Espionage (Gail Carriger).

This year, my Dark Academia and Paint It Black squares are, coincidentally, side-by-side on my card. In addition, the two books that I have selected for Dark Academia happen to also qualify for Paint It Black, which includes any book with a cover that is predominantly black.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novick: I already have this checked out of the library and am holding off on reading it until the game begins! I’m a fan of Novick’s fairy tale retelling, The Uprooted, and also enjoyed several books in her alternative-history-with-dragons series set during the Napoleonic Wars, starting with His Majesty’s Dragon. This one is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted.

The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo: This has been on my TBR since it was published. It’s set at Yale and with a main character who is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. I have several friends who have loved this book.

If neither of these end up working for me during the game, I can always go back to a Gaudy Night reread – that book is so wonderful I can’t get enough of it. And, fortuitously, several of the Margery Allingham Albert Campion mysteries have covers that would qualify for Paint It Black. Lots of options!.