A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, A story about a young female wizard in a dangerous school of magic.
In A Deadly Education (Scholomance #1), Galadriel, or El, is a junior enrolled in a school of magic, where dangers lurk around every corner. El has a strong natural ability for the dark arts, but is determined to stay away from all that. Still, it's been prophesized that El is the bringer of death and will sow destruction in her wake.
When the school's golden boy, Orion Lake, takes an interest in El, it opens up new possibilities for her, but new dangers as well.
(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)
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Galadriel ("El") is a junior at Scholomance, a school of magic, with a very strong natural ability for mass destruction and dark arts. She doesn't want to be a dark wizard ("maleficers"), but her affinity for destruction limits her ability to use her powers. Learning non-destructive spells is much more difficult for her, while destructive spells are overpowered in her hands. Others can often sense her darkness, too, which is why El is a loner.
There are two types of power that can fuel spells: mana and malia. Malia draws from the life-force of other living things, and users of it are known as "maleficers". Mana is generated through effort, like exercise or labor. El is "strict mana".
Orion Lake is a very well-connected classmate, considered the "hero" of their class. Orion's family is part of the New York enclave, the most powerful in the world and his mother is soon to be the leader of it. Enclaves (identified based on location) are groupings of wizards that share power and protect each other. Entry into an enclave is highly sought-after, and everyone sucks up to students born into enclaves, called "enclavers", in hopes of securing a spot.
Orion starts hanging around El because he suspects she is a maleficer who had something to do with the recent disappearance of one of their classmates, Louisa. However, the actual culprit, Jack, ends up attacking El, and Orion saves her. After the misunderstand is cleared up, Orion continues to hang out with El. It leads to a major boost to El's popularity.
There are three educational tracks at school: incantations, alchemy, or artifice. El is an incanter and has a project that requires all three disciplines to complete. She recruits Aardhya (artificer), an acquaintance of hers, and Orion (alchemist) to help. They create a magic mirror. Afterwards, the mirror repeats a prophesy that El has already heard before, that El is the bringer of death and will sow death and doom and bring down enclaves.
Scholomance is structurally designed to protect young, untrained wizards from maleficaria ("mals"), dangerous creatures that feed on wizards for their mana. Still, mals manage to get in, so students must be on alert, especially loners like El. Moreoever, in order to graduate, seniors cross through the lowest floor of Scholomance (considered the "graduation ceremony"), which was designed as a barrier to keep mals outs. It's an area overrun with mals and many die in the process. Preparing for the "ceremony" is a major part of being a student at Scholomance. There is a scouring machine that goes through the halls of the entire school twice a year with a wall of mortal flame that kills all the mals. The lowest floor ("graduation hall") has one, too, but it's been broken since 1886. Attempts to repair it have left powerful wizards dead.
El is in the library when she finds a maw-mouth, a unstoppable mal whose presence means certain death. There is only one known instance of killing a maw-mouth, and it involved nine powerful wizards. El manages to single-handedly kill the maw-mouth. She doesn't think anyone will believe her afterwards and tells no one.
The New York enclavers are puzzled by Orion's friendship with El, since he has never show much interest in anyone else including themselves. They eventually extend El a high-prized invitation to join their enclave, but El has come to realize that she wants nothing to do with the elitist enclaves that prey on and exploit others' desperation. Instead, El works to parlay her new social capital into an alliance with Aardhya and another friend, Yi Liu, for their ceremony next year. El feels lucky to have real friends now and people to watch her back.
While Orion's heroics has saved hundreds of students from mals, that means the mals are now desperately hungry, especially the ones in the basement. They've created a hole in the barrier which is how the maw-mouth ended up in the school. Orion has been trying to patch it up, but El learns that a group of seniors have been knocking out his repairs in hopes that mals will feed on the lower-classmen to sate their hunger somewhat before the ceremony.
Together, El, Orion and some of El's friends (all juniors) manage to collectively repair the barrier more securely. But the seniors are angry about this. After some argument, a plan is formed for El, Orion and a group of talented seniors to attempt a repair of the scouring machine in the graduation all before the ceremony in one week. After much preparation, a group of 20 of them manage to get in and make repairs, though two die.
When they return to the main floors, the warning bell has gone off signaling that the scouring machines are about to run. Soon, the seniors have now departed, though whether they exited into a newly-scoured hall or one crawling with mals is unknown. El and Orion decide to formally start dating. Induction happens, where new freshmen are magically drawn into the school. One of them comes bearing a letter from El's mother. It reads: "My darling girl, I love you, have courage, and keep far away from Orion Lake."