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  • Writer's pictureEmily

Language studies and survival skills

Updated: Nov 10, 2022

The Latinist, The Lake of Dead Languages, A Dangerous Education

By chance, I've read three books this month that are set in schools in which students are studying languages and are in some kind of danger.

The first one, The Latinist, doesn't have much physical danger in it, but the main character is being stalked by her mentor. That's not much of a spoiler, because the book lets you know very early on.

The second one, The Lake of Dead Languages, centers on a Latin teacher at a girls' boarding school, the school she attended as a teenager. When she was there, the school had a rash of deaths that is apparently being re-enacted.

The third is a YA fantasy set in a magic school, A Dangerous Education.

Prins, Mark- The Latinist

I really liked this book until about the last fifth. Even though it nearly lost me there, I'd recommend it. It's worth it. In this, an Oxford graduate student who is about to defend her dissertation and embark on what promises to be a shining career gets an anonymous message that she should re-think using her mentor as an advisor, and there's a letter attached that's lackluster enough to tank her everywhere she applies. It also has the code word "argumentative", which was enough to make me hate this man. The book switches between the MC's POV (Tessa) and the mentor's (Chris). Chris is in some ways an awful villain, but he's a villain of the times- a mediocre, self-pitying man who is trying to control a woman. His attempts at control are enough to make most female readers, at least, seethe. ***Bit of a spoiler here*** Tessa is determined and clever, which makes her behavior at the end so hard to believe. I won't get into it, and, again, it didn't ruin the book for me. I liked most of it. I didn't mark many spoilers because, with the book switching to Chris's POV often, the reader knows what he's up to early on, but here's one: SPOILER- Tessa publicly shames the bad man, so I forgave the book quite alot for that.

(Narrator, Vivienne Benesch) I'm confused about when this book was published. The narrator kept saying that it was the end of disc (number), and it referred to the 70s as 20 years ago, so I assumed mid-nineties, but Goodreads says 2002. I don't think that any of the characters ever mention a date. ***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS*** Anyway, I was trying to figure out if this was written before or after The Secret History. There are several surface similarities. Classics students, although these are girls at a prep school instead of college students. An enigmatic, compelling teacher who has an overly-close relationship with some of her students. The students participate in wild pagan rites, this time Roman. I don't know. It was enjoyable, partly because I figured out just about every twist, and there were many. I never figure out twists! I never predict the ending or solve the mystery before the detective tells us what happened! I think that it it happened often, I'd be bored, but it was such a novelty. One really stretched the imagination- someone was supposed to not recognize a person that she'd known 20 years ago as a little girl. I think the little girl was eleven or twelve, and they knew each other pretty well, and then saw each other again in the same place. Plus, the recognized one was acting so oddly that it would have been worthwhile to ask more questions, but the main character just ate it up. It made me feel very smug. The place has an interesting setting, which I love. It reminded me of Plain Bad Heroines- a school and a mansion house up in the northeast, this time with a lake instead of an orchard and thicket.

Novik, Naomi- A Deadly Education

This book was wild, and I have the next one on hold. I loved the narration by Anisha Dadia and the prickly main character, a teenage girl name Galadriel, who goes by El. El is a student at a magic school, whose magical affinity is mass destruction. Their world is violent, full of creatures who literally want to eat them for their magic. The school is devised to keep the teenage kids, the most vulnerable, safe, but it's an unfair system, in which kids from magical enclaves have enormous advantages. El's mother lives in a yurt and won't charge for her work, and El's father died before she was born. The thing that I liked best was the strategy. El is fighting to survive, and she's always doing math on how much power any action will use up or gain for her. It's so interesting. I thought that El was delightfully mean. It was a little hard sometimes to listen sometimes, because the book could be bleak. Lots of kids died in their world, and they're all very matter-of-fact about it. But, maybe this isn't too much of a spoiler, the book begins to trend toward hopeful UNTIL THE VERY END. So looking forward to the next part of this trilogy.

These books don't have anything to do with each other except the timing in which I happened to find them. I saw The Latinist on the library shelf and remembered thinking that it might be interesting, and it was. I tried to check out A Deadly Education and had to put it on hold, which can take forever on the e-books, but it happened to come in right when I was finishing up The Lake of Dead Languages. The last two were on my StoryGraph to be read list. I wasn't in any way looking for books on the theme of students in peril or language learning, and I wouldn't have thought that language arts would come up in A Deadly Education, but it was a plot point.

I'm really glad that I did my reading challenges last year, but I'm gladder that I have a one-book a month challenge this year. I'm roaming the library shelves and apps free-range, picking up whatever, and having a great time.

Please drop a comment if you've read and loved or loathed any of these books. Also to brag if you can speak or read ancient Greek or Latin.


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