May contain vague spoilers.
A Deadly Education, AKA “Fixing The System”
So. Much. Infodumping. This series is deeply in dialogue with Harry Potter, and part of the contrast is the planned-out story arc and solid worldbuilding. Unfortunately, in order for the story to make sense we need to know a lot of the things about the world that two-years-from-graduation El already knows, so what feels like a solid third of the book is internal exposition to get us caught up. (Novik can’t use the old “viewpoint character is a newbie” dodge to let us learn about the world in a more natural fashion because, as is explicitly noted at one point, being raised as a mundane then dumped into the Scholomance without preparation is a recipe for monster chow.) Once the plot gets going there’s a lot here to like, but I can see plenty of people stalling out a few chapters in. ⭐⭐⭐
The Last Graduate, AKA “Smashing The System”
One reason I had not read any of this series (despite purchasing each book near release) is that my sister did read them as they came out, and lamented each time that the story stopped where it did. Boy howdy was she right; I intended to interleave the series with two other books I had lined up and could not follow through on that plan after this book. Each book does have a complete arc and end at a logical stopping point, but the planned nature of the series means that there are also big fat plot threads dangled for next time. ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Golden Enclaves, AKA “Replacing The System Is Complex,” AKA “Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power.”
The more I digest this series the more I like it. Structures of power perpetuate and replicate themselves, so, rather than a single heroic act of defeating a reified Evil in battle, successful resistance requires working to make existing structures untenable and building structures that can replace them. And no one decides to become a wizard cop, so that’s automatically a more successful resolution than Harry Potter. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐