Good “Magic Schools” books?

I asked Azalea about “magic school” books the other night, and I realized there are many, many, many, MANY of these books. And, I just finished reading the very murdery “military magic dragon school” book - Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros.

Without spoiling for those that are interested, it is basically How to Train Your Dragon with adults, random magic, romance, and lots of murdery murder. Now, I like a good romance now and then, but this is not what I was hoping for. Besides PGTS, there are many other better “magic schools” in fantasy fiction. And it feels like I’ve read many.

These are the better ones I’ve read:

Wizard of Earthsea (a particularly good one)
Name of the Wind (my current favorite, but there’s only 2 of 3 books in the trilogy done)
Magician Master (the second book of Riftwar has a brief magic school appearance)
How to Train Your Dragon is actually a military dragon school book (with vikings, and kid friendly)
Academ’s Fury (The second book in Codex Alera has a pretty good military magic school, but the Roman-style slavery annoyed my wife enough I couldn’t get her to read the first chapter of the first book)
Percy Jackson is a military magic boot camp that is a reoccurring location (although not much in the way of education happens there).
The Saga of the Nothing Mage (I doubt many here have heard about it, but its a good epic fantasy, with several magic schools featured)
Pratchett’s Discworld (Sourcery and Equal Rites are fun places to start, but there no classes in the Discworld books)
The Imager Portfolio (there’s an academy for the magic users, and an interesting sort of careful world building - these are great books for adults that aren’t written like a dumb romance novel. People go on dates and talk to each other, you know, like normal people would.)
The Novice (the Summoner Trilogy) (Military magic school in the first book, and a good magic system)

There’s some that are interesting enough that to mention, but . . .

Schooled in Magic - I’m annoyed that his cruel world building, but he’s written a decent main character that basically gets punished whenever she tries to find a kind person. It’s also a summoned to a fantasy world story.
Jaunten - it was fun to read, but had a fair bit of cliche
Knights Magi (in the Spellmonger series; I’m frustrated by his feudal society and cultural bias toward women of in it; but this author writes page-turners)
Remedial Magic (actually has some of the story from teacher’s point of view)
Mushoku Tensei (a good enough Isekai that the Japanese light novel became an anime; but the school doesn’t show up until after the first arc, several volumes in and, at that point it goes more explicit and harem, and I quit reading)
Song of Sorcery (not bad, but not memorable. Another book though about a thief going to magic school)

In fact I have more. What do people like? Let’s compare notes.

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Just to add a few you didn’t mention:

  • The Will of the Many by James Islington is a strong roman-themed magic school book and the start of a series. It’s basically told from the perspective of someone who hates the oppressive system he finds himself in, but also has to wrestle with moral dilemmas about how to oppose it.
  • The Scholomance series by Naomi Novak is another modern take on the magic school in a world where there are basically monsters are drawn to magical children while they’re too weak to fully defend themselves, so they’re sent off to an automated school in an interdimensional pocket to try and keep them alive. I strongly recommend.
  • The Arcane Ascension series by Andrew Rowe are kinda a magic school/tower climber combo with the beginnings of a more techno-magical society and a magic system that people can predict and play within. It’s the best of Rowe’s work set in that universe, but isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. I love it though.
  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman is technically a magic school book that was well received enough to get a TV series. The books have more existential angst than the adaptation, and there’s what feels like a retcon after the first book that I’m not big on, but they’re well written.

Speaking of existential angst it’s kinda what dragged down the Nothing Mage books for me. I don’t think it’s as obscure as you think.

Here’s some other recommendations with more reservations:

  • The Shadowcroft Academy For Dungeons series by James Hunter is… probably kinda niche. It’s a mix of magic school and the whole dungeon core subgenre of litrpg that basically sprung up over night like 5 years ago. I would describe it as good filler content for when I don’t particularly want something to make me think or feel, I just want something with little bits of novelty to listen to and keep me engaged without taking much attention. Codex Alera fit into that category for me too tbh.

  • If we’re allowing manga, then it’s been many years since I read it so I kinda don’t know how well it holds up, but I used to love mx0. I don’t think the anime adaptation did it justice.

  • Technically the Super Powereds series by Drew Hayes is a magic school? But, you know, more super hero themed. It’s enjoyable, but very reliant on some college coming of age tropes that feel dated to me.

I’m sure I’ve got more recs than that, but nothing is coming to mind right now.

Edit:

  • The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson is also a fantastic magic school novel. The sequel doesn’t seem to be coming any time soon, and it hasn’t even started being written yet, but it’s still probably going to happen before Doors of Stone at least.

The ones you are mentioning include some of the others I’ve read. The Rithmatist by Sanderson is a truly unique magic system that’s definitely designed to be YA (and would have been a seriously good YA series). I can’t believe I forgot the Magicians; great writer and fantastic characters - but to be fair, I’ve only seen the show and read one of his short stories. Superhero academies didn’t make my list, but I’ve been reading Super Supportive, and the setting has moved to superhero school; good writing, and it views superpowers as magic where you know one spell.

How does the Scholomance series compare to Naomi Novik’s earlier work in terms of depth and target audience?

I really liked Uprooted but ignored this series assuming it is too YA (admittedly, both Uprooted and Spinning Silver are retellings of fairytales and could be classified as YA too). It’s not that I think the subset of the genre is bad, I just had my fill of it by now.

I haven’t read Uprooted or Spinning Silver, probably because I found the first few Temeraire books to be unbearably shallow and twee, which put me off her work until A Deadly Education.

As for how heavy the YA impact is, it probably depends upon which elements you mean, since it simultaneously feels very emblematic of that target audience in some ways and not at all in others.

Things YA often does that it does do:

  • There’s a dystopian system that involves setting up a micro-society composed entirely of teenagers, and that sparks the central plot.
  • Very first person limited pov following a character in that age range with a sort of unique potential.
  • A sort of awkward romance subplot sparks a central change that kicks off the main plot.
  • There is a very well-defined social pecking order that plays heavily in the protagonist’s daily life

Things YA often does that it doesn’t do:

  • The protagonist isn’t an undefined aimless everywoman. She has an actual well-defined personality and voice from the very beginning.
  • Few if any of the central conflicts are driven by interpersonal conflicts, most are driven by material interests.
  • Related to the above, people aren’t doing stupid things in life-or-death scenarios because of their emotional turmoil.
  • No part of the world-building feels cartoonish or forced.
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Thank you, that was helpful. I don’t think I’m going to read this series after all.

Temeraire books are definitely meant for children. My 8yo cousin is reading them and she likes them a lot.

I’m just posting to say the Scholomance books are insanely good. As is Rithmatist, but as mentioned, it’s one book and not likely to be a second for a long time.

Well worth reading the series. They way this convo went this seems like a direct statement made at Lya, but it really isn’t, people can not read things if they want, I just wanted to recommend this series above and beyond any others I’ve read aside from you know, the one this forum is made after, as my favorite magic school book I’ve read recently (which excludes Earthsea another great series, but also it’s been decades since I’ve read them so I can’t be entirely certain of that.)

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Oh, there’s also that other big magic school progression fantasy! The Mage Errant series!

I’m probably going to do a full post just on my affection for that series at some point, but it’s got a very strong magic system, well-developed themes, strong world-building, lots of fun action, and characters that mature and grow throughout.

I probably didn’t really think of it earlier because the majority of the action takes place away from the school itself, but it’s also really good.

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You asked how Uprooted and Spinning Silver compare to Scholamance series. I listened to all of them as audiobooks and Scholamance is my favorite narrator though all three were fantastic.

The series didn’t read YA for me at all. The magic system is interesting and the stakes make it almost like a thriller. It feels faster paced than the fairy tales. It has a romance story that is as compelling as any other of the three and it feels earned. I would recommend it.

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