Chapter 1: Soul-Eater


Galadriel—or “El”— is a student in her junior year at the Scholomance, a school for wizards in the United Kingdom. The Scholomance is set into a void outside of the normal world. The classrooms in the center of the school remain in place while the dormitories rotate downward each year. The senior class always ends up at the bottom for graduation.

Angry that a popular fellow student named Orion Lake has just chased a soul-eater into her room and killed it, El shoves Orion out of her room and slams the door. El would have liked to fight the soul-eater herself to enhance her reputation. Instead, her fellow students’ obsession with Orion will just increase. El is also upset because Orion’s heroics have left her room covered in foul-smelling slime from the soul-eater, which she must clean up. She summons a spellbook to learn cleaning spells from the void of darkness that comprises one wall in her room. El does jumping-jacks to generate mana (energy) which is necessary to cast the spell.

El’s anger with Orion goes deeper than the incident that just occurred. Hundreds of students normally die during a school year, but Orion keeps saving them. El believes that student deaths are needed to power the Scholomance and she thinks that Orion’s heroics actually just create more problems. El knows that during her senior year, she will have to fight her way across the graduation hall that is filled with maleficaria—monsters that feed on wizards. The school once had a mechanism that cleansed the graduation hall, but it broke and no one is able fix it. 

Casting spells in the presence of non-magical people (“mundanes”) requires extra mana. A wizard who does not have enough mana can use malia, which is energy drained from living things nearby, instead. El suspects that her friend Yi Liu uses malia, and that an American student named Jack Westing also does. El learned from her mother (“Mum,” who is a magical healer) that using malia leads to the destruction of one’s own body, as well. 

El’s magical specialization is destruction, which makes her unpopular. Her only close family is Mum, who lives in a hippie commune in Wales, where El is not welcome. El’s father died in the school during his senior year. When El visited her father’s family in Mumbai, her great-grandmother had a vision that El would be very dangerous, forcing Mum rescue her. El knows that she cannot live at the commune with Mum after she graduates, so she wants to join a wizard enclave that will value her destructive capabilities. But since her family is not rich, it will be difficult for her. When El walks with Liu toward the cafeteria, students ask her to retell the story of Orion saving her.


El’s explanation of the balancing principle behind magic introduces a central theme of the novel: that every magical element, event, and person is balanced by an opposite one. The relationship between El and her mother, Gwen, is a key example of this principle. Gwen is unusually gentle, generous, and calm, and El explains that in order to balance out her mother’s goodness, El has an innate magical affinity for mass destruction. Another example of balance is El’s grim understanding that the lives Orion saves must somehow be repaid back to their school, the Scholomance. Since he has prevented so many deaths during his time there, El believes that those deaths will occur later, a belief that foreshadows future conflicts and potential tragedy. A third example of balance is the damage that sorcerers incur from using malia. While El and Gwen power their magic strictly with mana they build up through work, wizards who use malia do so by robbing life force from other beings. El’s classmate Liu has used so much malia that her eyes are turning white and her fingernails black. El predicts that Jack’s use of malia is extreme enough that it will rot him from the inside within five years. This degradation of their bodies is a direct balancing response to their pulling life force from others. 

In this chapter, El’s focus on her reputation highlights her ongoing struggle to be accepted by her peers. Throughout the book, El endeavors to establish a reputation for power while countering her undeserved notoriety for evil. She is angry at Orion for killing the soul-eater in her room because by preventing her from killing it herself, he has taken away an opportunity for her to prove that she is an exceptionally powerful young wizard. For independent wizards like El, who do not have a safe enclave to return to after graduation, reputation is crucial to attracting offers of alliance and a future spot in an enclave. Although her great-grandmother’s prophecy and the fact that the school answers even her simple requests for cleaning spells with dark, destructive magic might make El seem a dangerous person to pick for inclusion in an enclave, having a wizard like her might well keep an enclave safe without violence, since her reputation would discourage others from attacking. El’s ongoing struggle to prove herself demonstrates the value of reputation both inside the Scholomance and after graduation.