Chapters 2 & 3
Summary: Chapter 2: Mimics
After dinner, El realizes that she needs to fix the door to her room. This will require a trip to the workshop in the lower levels of the school where maleficaria wait to eat students. El asks if anyone wants to accompany her, knowing that they will want something in exchange. She declines Jack’s offer, since she knows he will try to steal her life force when they are alone but El accepts Orion's offer to help. While on the walk down the dark stairs to the workshop, El starts to reprimand Orion over the incident with the soul-eater in her room. Orion tells her that monsters don’t seek him out, but that when he kills them, he can take their energy. While the two are retrieving the supplies from the workshop, several chairs in the room transform into monsters. El and Orion are able to escape with the supplies that El needs after Orion fights off the monsters.
El repairs her door while talking to Orion. When he asks why she doesn’t use outside mana to fix the door, she responds by tugging at his life force—an act that for most wizards would require a complicated ritual. Startled, Orion calls El a maleficer, an evil wizard that uses malia. El scoffs at this suggestion and explains that if she were in fact a maleficer, she would have drained his life force in the workshop. Orion then asks El about Luisa, a girl on their floor who has disappeared. Privately, El assumes that Jack is responsible, but she just tells Orion that there are other maleficers, without naming Jack. When Orion expresses frustration that El will not thank him for being helpful, she tells him to leave and then slams the door when he does.
Summary: Chapter 3: Maleficer
There are no teachers at the Scholomance; all learning is by independent study, with magical guidance from the school itself. El has chosen to specialize in incantation rather than alchemy or artiface, and she’s learned many languages so she can learn more spells.
Aadhya, another student, invites El to walk to breakfast. El has become more popular at the Scholomance, but that is only because of the attention that Orion has been showing her. El and Aadhya are met by Orion on the way, and he walks El to her language class, along with El’s classmates Nkoyo, Jowani, and Cora. Once El and Orion are alone outside of the class, El confronts him about the attention he is giving her. When Orion assures El that he is not interested in her romantically, she realizes that he’s been following her to make sure that she doesn’t attack other students. El realizes that Orion does not believe her about Luisa, but she does nothing to dispel the growing rumors that Orion is dating (or trying to date) her.
El realizes that her best plan to survive graduation is to have fifty full crystals of mana saved up and to unleash her destruction powers. After a day of increased popularity, El returns to her room. There’s a knock on her door and she opens it, assuming it’s Orion, but it is Jack. Jack stabs El in the stomach and closes the door. El lies on the floor, unable to reach her crystals. She considers using her powers to drain Jack’s life force, but that would make her a maleficer, which she believes would be worse than death. Suddenly, Orion opens the door.
Analysis: Chapters 2 & 3
In this section of the book, the theme of the power of belief gains importance and is illustrated by the existence of the Scholomance. Because the Scholomance is built into the void rather than existing in the material world, its structural integrity depends on the belief of the people inside it. This idea is underscored by the fact that the blueprints of the school are displayed where students can see them, thereby reinforcing the strength of the building by believing in its reality. The potential downside to the power of belief is demonstrated by the Scholomance’s response to students’ anxieties about it, which make mals more likely to appear. Likewise, unexpected errands within the school can lead the school to behave unexpectedly, by moving stairways or passages. In this way, the Scholomance becomes a reflection of the beliefs of the students inside it.
The juxtaposition of El as a supposed maleficer and Orion as a benevolent hero is one of the novel’s central examples of the motif of good vs. evil. At face value, Orion’s ability to build mana by defeating mals makes him a clear symbol of good, while El’s affinity to use malia as a default makes her a symbol of evil. However, El constantly struggles against her affinity, strictly powering her magic with mana in order to avoid turning into the maleficer everyone assumes her to be. This challenges the idea that good and evil are always straightforward and clear-cut; even in a place filled with wizard-eating monsters and the constant threat of death, the concepts are complex and nuanced. Orion displays his lack of understanding of good and evil when he assumes that El is responsible for Luisa’s death. Orion overlooks the true murderer, Jack, simply because he is handsome and outgoing and thereby fits Orion’s misguided stereotype of a good person.
Throughout the book, El faces a constant internal conflict between her desire not to harm others and her natural affinity toward mass destruction. Her affinity makes the temptation to use malia drastically more difficult for her to resist than it is for other wizards. She exerts tremendous self-control when she leaves the creative writing track after discovering that her affinity is too strong to create anything but destructive spells. Although those spells could make her powerful, she stops writing in order to keep them from coming into the world and being used by anyone for evil. The scene when Jack stabs El in order to cover up his identity as a maleficer provides a true test of El’s nature. Although it would be easier to save herself by pulling out Jack’s life force, El discovers that her desire to remain good overpowers even her will to survive.