I Just Finished The Scholomance By R Lee Smith.

This book was recommended to me by my friend. After finishing it, I just really need to talk about just how emotionally devastating this book was. And write a whole fucking review as some kind of therapy for book hangovers.

Thanks for reading my review. If there are any spelling or grammatical mistakes, please correct me in the comments section. English is not my first language. I have also posted this on another subreddit. If reviews aren’t allowed, please inform me.

This book broke me. It made me feel dirty, ashamed of even being a human, and it deeply disturbed me. The blurb did not prepare me for the actual contents of this work. In fact, if you’re sure you do not have any triggers, I’d recommend that you ignore this review and go into the book blind. It‘s a slow, intense, brooding work of fiction that will challenge and push your limits.

This book was my first introduction to the work of R Lee. Smith. It is also one of my favorite books. The writing was beautiful, characterization strong and dotted with Old English. A testament to how ancient some of these demons were.

This book isn't something you read if you want any gratification. I’d describe the experience of reading this book as falling down a deep, dark, humid rabbit hole where the darkness itself seems to have taken on a fucked up life of its own. It suffocates you, leaving you light-headed and weak. As you near the end, you hope and pray for it to end, only for someone to slap you in the face and tell you how stupid you were for believing that and hitting your head shortly afterward on the hard concrete floor. It is a dark and bitter book.

Mari is what I'd call a sociopathic heroine. She was cold, unfeeling, and had a complex. Mara was also a psychic. I thought that she had a general dislike for humanity and believed herself superior to humans in general.

Technically, she's not even human.

After all, when you could hear the lustful thoughts of your narcissistic, misogynistic father at age 4. And the thoughts of your “pushover” depressed mother who was aware of her husband's affairs and did nothing about it, I can see why someone like Mara would grow up to become who she was in the book.

Mara lives a dull and meaningless existence, with the only friend she has ever had gone, chasing her dreams of learning magic in the Scholomance, a school run by demons. One day, she receives a letter from Connie, her friend, pleading with Mara to save her. To come and get her.

That's where I'm going to stop, for now. I hated Mara. Not because I found her dull, boring, or uninteresting. The exact opposite. I genuinely believed that she might be one of the most compelling, believable sociopathic characters I’d ever read.

I just really disliked her as a person. I hated how cold, ruthless and unfeeling she was. I hated reading her thoughts, I hated having to understand and look at things through her POV, and I hated her god damn panic room. phew.

Honestly, it wasn’t even because she was an inherently amoral person. She did the things she had to do. By no means was she on the same level as Humbert Humbert or that guy from American Psycho.

In the beginning, I didn’t mind her coldness. But as the story progressed, she started displaying more and more of her sociopathic behavior. I thought that the book posed the question of whether this was or was not a good thing.

As the madness and general darkness of the book overwhelmed me, I had trouble reading about her behavior. I understood her logic. But in a book so grim, her behavior added to my general sense of hopelessness. Therefore I could not help but hate it. In a book so dark, the revelation (can you even call it that?) that she did not feel guilty for accidentally murdering innocent students was the final straw for me.

Mara is the perfect example of how to write a character that is immensely unlikeable but compelling. A character with all the makings of a Mary Sue, but is far from one.

The supporting cast and school were just as intriguing. The accommodations could barely be described as such and were practically prison cells.

And the students themselves were foul. They dubbed themselves as either lions or gazelles in how aggressive they were. But regardless of how aggressive or how high up the hierarchy of students they were, every single fucking student was at the complete mercy of their demonic teachers.

The book made sure to point out that no matter how good the students had once been, every single one was tainted with the coldness, darkness, and cruelness of The Scholomance. They would backstab and kill each other just for the chance to get ahead. Even the rare few that have managed to hold on to their morals were irreparably damaged.

The feeding tables were written in great, revolting detail. The hordes of students fighting, clawing, and attacking each other, for those chunks of greasy, slimy meat of suspicious origin, and the hard brown bread, while the demonic teaches entertained themselves by lording over the sea of what they believed to be savages. The disgust Mara had for them mirrored my own. I pitied yet disliked the students.

You can see why and how some of them entered and survived the School for Dark Arts.

They weren’t cartoonishly evil but terrifyingly human.

As the story progressed, Mara became a student at The Scholomance, and in some ways, so did I.

The things I found disturbing were considered normal in this book. Acts of horror were everyday occurrences. The school itself was disconcertingly disconnected from humanity all that was humane. And slowly, I, while still shocked by such acts, perceived them as something that just happened in the story.

That deeply disturbed me.

The romance was a slow burn, though I would argue that it could hardly even be called one. The sex was violent, graphic, and unsexy. I genuinely believed that the sex scenes were not meant to arouse or titillate the reader. I did not think R. Lee Smith intended for them to be erotic.

The sex scenes served the purpose of characterizing the characters and furthering the plot. But I did immensely dislike them. Despite everything, despite my admiration for dark romances and books in general, I am a bit of a traditionalist. Gore, unsexy sex, and violence are, if you can believe it, generally not liked by me. But I can appreciate them if they serve a plot purpose and further characterize the characters. The sex scenes, for the most part, in my opinion, did that.

Another thing I appreciated was her agency. She was the initiator in many of the sex acts that happened, and she was willing to use Kazuul's lust against him.

The sex scenes were, it seemed to me, a form of power play. Mara was not above hurting others, students and teachers alike, and using her body for her gains. In that sense, she had agency and some form of control. That leveled out the power dynamic and made the tenuous relationship between Mara and Kazuul much easier for me to digest.

There was a plot twist, though I did manage to figure it out early on, and the ending was the most unsatisfying, emotionally depressing shit that I have ever read.

It made me fucking cry. So fuck me, fuck this book, and fuck this ending.

This book was dark, depressing, unsatisfying and made me feel like a worse person after reading it. It was also intricately detailed, filled with murder, violence, gore, torture, unlikeable characters, and it was beautifully written.

The students there were at the whims of their own thoughts and impulses, at the mercy and control of the seemingly all powerful demons, and they backstabbed, murdered and robbed each other as they tried to claw their way to graduation and the mastery of dark arts.

R. Lee Smith created the most unlikeable human beings, and portrayed the darkest parts of humanity. This is a wonderful book, and though I will never re read it, I do appreciate it immensely.

Again, fuck me and fuck this stupid, wonderfully written fucking book because it made me fucking cry.

Fuck.

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