“A Deadly Education” comes very close to being my 2020 book of the year. The best slug I can come up with is “Hogwarts, if Hogwarts explicitly wanted to eat you.”
Naomi Novik has fantastic technical ability. The book’s pacing is good. The prose is clear and brisk. The world is _awesome_. It’s told from a delightfully cranky first person. Despite the grim universe, the whole thing managed to have a hopeful tone, which I liked. I burned through it in about a day.
The only thing that keeps this from hands down being my favorite is that Naomi Novik wrote this as the first book in a series rather than a standalone. There is a lot of exposition and set up, which didn’t leave a lot of time for stuff to happen. Instead of the intense ending I was hoping for, the book closed on what felt like what was the act one climax of a longer story. I’m fine with that, but it keeps me from unequivocally recommending the book.
Finally, I know I’m probably the only human left alive who still reads physical books, but if you can, read it in hardback. When I pulled it out of the Barnes and Noble packaging I had a brief moment of breathlessness when I saw it for the first time. It looks and feels like an actual spellbook. If you’re going to only read one of my 2020 recs, this one may as well be it. And if you’re going to read one of my 2020 recs in hardcopy, this absolutely should be it.