Take magical teens and throw them into a potentially deadly school with no really noticeable adult involvement. Isolate them from most contact with their families and keep them there until they are skilled enough and connected enough to, by theory, face the constant onslaught of dark forces attempting to kill them. They attend the school because to remain in the outside would leave them even more vulnerable to attack by the monsters (which considering not a chapter seems to go by without at least one attack, that must be saying something – although one does suppose the adult in the kids’ lives in their magical enclaves and communities should be able to do something to keep their young safe.)
Add to these terrified youngsters a glowing hero named Orion. The entire student body woos fellow student Orion who dispatches the evil intentioned creatures with seeming ease.
Well, everyone except our first person lead POV character. Orion keeps “saving” her, though she’d really rather he didn’t. She has plenty of power on her own and doesn’t need Orion strutting in and making messes for her to clean up. Especially if she’s to form any alliances of her own, despite a terrible (and foretold) potential she may yet grow into.
In A Deadly Education, Naomi Novik created a truly intriguing and misunderstood lead character, an interesting setting, and a new approach to magic. It is told through the (most likely) tainted perspective of a prickly, mostly antisocial loner, though El (short for Galadriel – yes, she’s named for the Tolkien character) does make strides toward a more civil outlook during her character arc. The book built a world ripe for exploration by the terrified-but-talented students (most of whom the author will doubtless explore in greater detail in the next installments), and although I saw the end’s twist coming, it provided a great building block for the sequel. Because, yes, this apparently is the first in a series.