In honor of school starting back up soon, come up with your own topic that fits the theme of school or learning! Books that take place at school/boarding school/during study abroad, books you read in school, […] etc.)
I choose “favorite school settings” because school settings have been my favorites since… forever, basically, but the first series in which I noticed this was (of course) Harry Potter. And that’s also why I won’t put Harry Potter on this list, we all love Hogwarts so much that I don’t feel like I need to repeat it.
In no particular order:
The Little Palace
The Little Palace from Leigh Bardugo’s The Grisha Trilogy is at the same time the Darkling’s palace and Ravka’s Grisha school. Half of the first book and most of the second book are set here, and I loved everything about it, from the magic lessons to the library and the hints of intrigue. Atmospheric school settings are my favorites.
The Gabadamosi Preparatory from Nicky Drayden’s Temper is the premier boarding school in this alt-history fantasy Cape Town. It’s the school where privileged people from the city study to go to university, and also the school the main characters – who are not rich – infiltrate to investigate demonic possessions. This is one of the weirdest fictional schools I’ve ever seen, but the rest of the book was weirder, so I didn’t even notice it that much. The library with the flying, acrobatic librarians was definitely memorable, though.
This academy from Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee is the place were the people who will be part of High Faction Shuos are trained – spies and assassins, but also some analysts and bureaucrats. It’s the kingdom of backstabbing, and you’re praised for the pranks as long as you’re not the one that ended up in danger (…or died). It’s a horrible place we get to know only through flashbacks, but I loved every time it came up because it’s a mess.
Sweet Mercy Convent
Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister is mostly set in the Sweet Mercy Convent, a place where girls train to become assassin nuns. This book has one of the coolest magic systems ever and great action scenes, which made every lesson interesting. I also loved most of the teachers. Sister Apple and her girlfriend Kettle, and Abbess Glass (a wonderful political intrigue chessmaster) are some of my favorite characters in the series.
[I actually didn’t like this book, but that’s another story]
My favorite part of The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang was the beginning, set in Sinegard Academy, an elite military school Rin – a peasant from the Rooster province, a nobody – managed to get in through hard work and sleepless nights. It’s a very competitive place, there are rivalries, the teachers are… odd, and that always makes school settings more entertaining.
American Ballet Conservatory
Another very competitive school, this time not completely fictional, the American Ballet Conservatory from Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton’s Tiny Pretty Things is the background for an incredible amount of drama, backstabbing – and, surprisingly, great character development. This series starts out very trashy and it ends up not being so, not as much. I loved its representation of chronic illness and anorexia, and it also features a racially diverse cast – one main character is black, another is biracial Korean/white. (I have to mention, though, that the bisexual representation wasn’t that great).
Yoon Ha Lee’s short story The Shadow Postulates from the collection Conservation of Shadows made me fall in love with the setting in just a few pages. It’s set in Black College, where the main character is studying shadow math and shadows can become dangerous if you don’t respect curfew. There are mysterious historical documents about math, there are… shadow postulates, as the title says, and worldbuilding that blurs the line between magic and science is my favorite kind of worldbuilding. As a place, Black College is atmospheric and also kind of terrifying? I loved it a lot, for a story so short. The fact that its main character, Kaela Navus, is a lesbian who is learning sword dancing made me love this story even more.
While I loved the beginning of Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song, which is set in the Catholic boarding school of St. Agnes, it wasn’t because of the school but because Kate was burning down one of its chapels. However, I loved the scenes set in Colton Academy, in which Kate and August meet and also almost get murdered. Fictional schools are great.
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children from Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire is for sure one of the most imaginative school settings I know. It’s a place where children who got lost in portal fantasy worlds and had/were forced to go back to the real world try to readjust to life on ordinary, boring Earth.
Except there’s murder.
I loved reading about this place and the way the many portal fantasy worlds the children visited were categorized was really interesting.
Bates Academy from Dana Mele’s People Like Us isn’t actually that memorable as a school. It wouldn’t be, if not for the fact that the people who study there are rich backstabbing mean girls. It starts as a normal school (in which a girl was just murdered, so maybe not that normal, but it gets worse) and then it becomes more and more creepy as the story progresses and you realize that everyone has secrets.
Also, almost everyone was queer!
Do you like school settings? What are your favorite fictional schools?