The Last Graduate, by Naomi Novik, is one of the best books of the year for many readers. I don’t think that will surprise anyone who has read A Deadly Education, which was one of my top picks of last year. The Scholomance series stands out from the pack with a unique narrative experience, fabulous setting, quirky and relatable cast, and plot that keeps the reader on their toes. However, I think The Last Graduate isn’t quite the stunning success that its predecessor was because it does little to expand the plot or story.
In the world of Scholomance, most people can do magic and the world is filled with these horror manifestations that try to murder mages. In order to noticeably lower the death rate among children, a bunch of people came together to build a magical school that serves as a training gauntlet of sorts to make students stronger. While the school still is filled with monsters that try to knife you, it’s treated as more of a learning exercise to prepare you for the real world – where the monsters have much larger knives. The Last Graduate picks up the moment A Deadly Education left off, with El contemplating the events of the last year and reading a letter she received from her mother. After El reads the aforementioned letter from her mother, The Last Graduate wraps up El’s junior year and then immediately launches into her senior year of school.
If you were to go read my review of A Deadly Education you might notice that my plot summary for the two books is almost identical. This is because my big problem with The Last Graduate is that it doesn’t iterate or evolve the story much. The stakes are the same, the challenges are the same, the methods are the same, and the story is eerily similar just with slight variations. Now, a copy of a very good book is still going to result in a great read, but I found The Last Graduate a little uninspired. When I finished the novel I found myself having a very hard time remembering anything that happened other than the fabulous cliffhanger of an ending. There are some mysteries teased out at the start of the book but they are completely ignored after they are established and are clearly set up for book three. A Deadly Education was ripe with this profound sense of discovery and imagination. Those feelings are still there in Last Graduate, but they are muted by comparison. One thing I will note is that the ‘Oops, all exposition’ narrative style of the novel felt like more of a drag this time without the strong sense of discovery to buoy it up.
Yet, there is still a ton of good here. The world is fabulous and we continue to expand our knowledge of how everything works in this second installment. Though there is now some romance in Graduate, the book still has a heavy attraction to friendship as a theme, and it’s nice to see a group of schoolgirls build a warm sense of camaraderie between themselves. The Gym, the major addition in worldbuilding in book two, is rad and does a great job showcasing some fun action and character moments.
The Last Graduate is a good book, but it suffers from the fact that I would rather just read A Deadly Education than crack it open. If you wanted book one to be twice as long then you are in the right place, but if you were hoping (like I was) for an evolution of the story you will have to join me in waiting for book three.
Rating: The Last Graduate – 7.5/10.0