Cover of The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

While better than the first, “The Last Graduate” is still a little shaky. The waves of exposition have been replaced by swells of action, but the story still suffers from the struggles of a first-person narrative: we are smothered by an internal monologue. This leaves other characters feeling a little thin. When your main character is prickly and stand-offish, it’s hard to spend much quality time with anyone else.

The biggest hurdle for me remains suspension of disbelief. I know we’re talking about a magical school with actual magic, but it’s easy enough to trust a story with magic. No, the problem is the setup of the school itself; it just reeks of contrived implausibility. As we don’t have an omniscient viewpoint, it is easy to rationalize that we are simply missing information, but that is unsatisfying after book two of three. One of Novik’s strength is the way she grounds things: the intensely palpable magic in Uprooted, the layers of distrust and bigotry in Spinning Silver. In the Scholomance these sorts of intimate truths make the grander absurdity harder to swallow. That all said—whee! This book is a great ride. The main character is still a delightful monstrosity, and her work is not yet done.