School of Hard Knocks, the fifth book in Christopher G. Nuttall’s Schooled In Magic series, opens with Emily going undercover.
The Grandmaster has discovered that a rival magic school, called Mountaintop Academy, is planning to kidnap Emily; however, they intend to do it in a way that makes it look like an accident. Word is that they plan to seduce her with impressive magic she would not normally learn at her age to get her to join their side. Rather than protecting her, the Grandmaster asks her to go undercover and try to find out what Mountaintop wants and what they are hiding.
Sure enough, Emily finds herself at the new school, “by accident.” Mountaintop is quite different from Whitehall. The students live together in large rooms and each upperclassman has a Shadow, an underclassman servant. Many of these Shadows are poor children that have been offered a place at Mountaintop, which apparently caters to two kinds of students—rich and well-placed as well as poor and destitute scholarship students.
Emily ignores her Shadow at first, as she doesn’t feel comfortable with a servant, but then, in her usual way of upsetting the order of things, she befriends the girl, Freida. When she finds out Freida is being picked on by the well-to-do students, she teaches her some defensive magic. This upsets the whole Mountaintop cart of apples, as Freida shares this with her fellow Shadows and they start fighting back.
Meanwhile, Administrator Aurelius, the acting leader of the school, undertakes to tempt Emily with all sorts of magic, from summoning demons to forbidden healing spells. And Emily is tempted! The knowledge offered is just the kind of thing she wants to learn. If she had not been put on notice, she is pretty sure she would have given in to temptation altogether!
But all is not what it seems at Mountaintop, and an old adversary lurks nearby undetected. Will Emily survive long enough to find out the secrets she was sent to discover?
This was my favorite Schooled-in-Magic book so far. I am not exactly sure why. I liked the school set up that Emily had to find her way through. I liked that, for a time, it was just school without a terrible problem. (When reading Harry Potter, I was always disappointed when the bad guy suddenly came on toward the end. I like the school interactions between students trying to solve student problems.)
I was a bit disappointed in the later part of the book when I worked out who the villain had to be, as it was someone I liked, but I thought it worked out pretty well by the end.
I think part of what I liked was that it was a real mystery, in the sense that she was sent to learn something and she had to figure out how to find it out, and then she did.
Oh happy day! Void, Emily’s mysterious guardian, appears twice in this book. Once in the beginning and once near the end in a rather satisfying bit. This is more Void than we have seen since the first book, a joy and a bounty for Void fans across the galaxy!
However, there was an interesting development on the Void front in this book! Another mysterious figure appears in the beginning of the book, named Cloak. Cloak struck me as a possible Void sighting, as if he might be Void in disguise. He even kind of talked like Void.
However…Cloak showed up again in the very end of Book Five, and from what he said and did, did not quite come over as a good guy.
Could our beloved Void be evil? Oh tragic day!
Void fans everywhere await the answer to this question with baited breath.