Review of School of Hard Knocks

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.

Void Watch:

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.

See School of Hard Knocks on Amazon



  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard September 17, 2018 at 12:22 pm


    Darn Snerk Collar!

  2. L. Jagi Lamplighter September 17, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    It’s hard being a minion of the author! ;-P


  3. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard September 17, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    Thinking of Cloak and what I can’t say, I did think of two other “mysterious” sorcerers we’ve seen. Note, Chris hasn’t said anything about them.

    In the Prologue of Lessons in Etiquette (SIM 02), the Sorcerer Crow meets with an unknown sorcerer that we never learn anything about.

    In the Prologue of Work Experience (SIM 04), Old Mother Holly has a mysterious visitor who gives her Necromancer Tools. Again, we never learn anything about him.

    Could these individuals be the mysterious Cloak? 😈

  4. I noticed those and have been waiting to find out who that is. I have considered Void as a possiblity there, but I didn’t feel that guy (guys?) necessarily acted like Void.

    Cloak did strike me as Voidish…

    (I am putting my thoughts down as I go, as I figure it is fun for the author to see the reader’s speculations.)

  5. L. Jagi Lamplighter September 17, 2018 at 4:53 pm

    I will add…It’s hard to believe that the sorcerer who spoke to Crow would be Void because Void has ample opportunity to kill Emily, should he want to.

    He could, I supposed, be trying to do things to train her and approve her abilities, but there are many ways of doing that which would be safer and more reliable.

    I suppose Void could have a spilt personality. Or, there could more than one mysterious figure in the entire world.

    Which leaves Cloak a mystery. Cloak could be Void or he could be the other guy. Or…someone else.

Leave a Reply to Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.