Synopsis (from Goodreads):
For centuries, there has been a legend of a hidden school where magic is taught by the demons who dwell there to anyone who seeks them out. Still the price of the education is high: anyone who reaches the door of the Scholomance may enter, but the Devil takes every tenth student who tries to leave.
A hidden school. Demonic masters. An inescapable fate for one out of every ten graduates. Connie would do anything to have the magic her best friend was born with. And Mara would do anything anything at all to get Connie, her only friend, back.
It is a book about a young woman who is looking for, and finding, a unique magical school; still if that makes you think immediatelly ‘Hogwarts’ and ‘Harry Potter’, please kindly remember that it was penned by R. Lee Smith, not by JK Rowling. Yes, the same Lee Smith who specializes in fantasy erotica and is not afraid to put rape and orgy scenes in her novels. Accordingly Scholomance is definitely for adult audience and is as far from Hogwarts as it is actually possible.
I hope such an intro made you only more curious not less so let me add some details to spice the whole premise even further. The school of magic in this case is a highly secretive and also very dangerous institution which is open to new applicants only one night a year and the race to its entrance is nothing more than another exercise in survival of the fittest/the cleverest/ the most determined. Yes, some people are killed/murdered by other hopefulls even before they are admited to the school. Mara, the main lead, doesn’t want to attend the school at all – she has far more serious problems – but when her close and only friend, Connie, disappears and sends her a card with a plea of help she cannot just shrug her shoulders and forget about it. Because Mara is, contrary to Connie, truly gifted in magic and she knows she might possess unique qualities to enter the school and survive long enough to find and rescue her friend. Mind you we are speaking here about a shadowy institution created and led by demons for completely murky purposes.
The Scholomance is a novel hard to categorize so, I imagine, it would be a marketing nightmare. If I had to pick a genre for it hough, I’d choose horror/erotica/fantasy. If you are not such a big fan of dark tales as yours truly, steer clear from this one but if you love them it is a novel for you.
All the darkness seem to be focused on Mara who, time and again, disproves the notion that your main character must be ‘good’ or even likeable. If you like her it’s only because she grows on you – after a while. Still it is definitely a process because, more often than not she behaves like one mean sociopathic b****. Still the word ‘sociopath’ never appears in the text – we just get to know her, the way she views her world, the callous way she thinks and interacts with other people. I admit her characterisation was done extremely well and reading about her was fascinating. I just wish other characters of this novel lived up to that standard. I have to say the demons simply let me down, especially when compared to the undilluted viciousness of the main heroine. Still the ending, explaining the purpose behind of the existence of the Scholomance was worth waiting for – even though the book is not the shortest one (about 600 pages).
An incredibly elaborate, tall tale with wonderful worldbuilding and intriguing anti-heroine who could win you over after some time. For adult fans of R. Lee Smith and those weirdos who love dark, twisted tales too much for their own good.
Other books by R. Lee Smith reviewed here so far: