I enjoyed this book throughout but had a bit of Scholomance knowledge that it interfered a bit with completely giving this book five stars. I kept thinking, "I like this book.. when I'm done, on Goodreads I'll be giving it four stars." Why? Because of some geographical inconsistency with the fables of Scholomance and of the writer's choice to start the journey in Romania.
First, the myth of Scholomance is set in the town of Hermannstadt (misspelled by the author as Hermanstadt--no biggie, but anyway...) which is now renamed Sibiu in Romania. The school/castle is said to have been built in the middle of a lake south of Hermannstadt in the Carpathians. That's fine, but where the geography doesn't add up is when Mara goes to Europe.
Mara first goes to Bucharest. That's fine, I suppose--for the sake of just getting to Romania. But her friend Connie sends a letter explaining that she's near Altenmunster, west of Lake Tuefelsee. I'm not sure if it's intentional, but Altenmünster is in Germany (note the umlauts missing from Smith's spelling), and is no where near a lake-town called Tuefelsee. Yes, there is a lake, but no town with the lake's namesake as Lake Teufelsee. Just a town called Teufelsee itself. Is it to be assumed the lake surrounding Teufelsee in Germany is where the author wanted to take us? This is just simple atlas-snooping to find this information. I shook this off, assuming that maybe the author wanted to just add more fiction to an already fabled-castle. But still, a cab ride from anywhere in Romania to either Altenmünster or Tuefelsee, or anywhere in Germany for that matter would have been a painstakingly long and expensive trip, yet the book hints that it seemed like a bit of a long car ride from a Romanian cab driver. Also there are a couple of scenes in the book that remind us that Mara is in Romania, so this really didn't add up for me. Again, maybe the choice of towns and the slight spelling differences was just the author's deliberate choice to make it more mysterious, but to me, it was noticeable and unexplained.
So unfortunately, this stuck in my brain throughout the story.
But then the book, despite the geographical changes from the fable, became incredibly entertaining and very enjoyable to read. I still kept thinking, "Four stars, four stars..." but then BAM!--the ending happened and in a creative, dramatic twist I decided the story was too good in the end despite my pickiness with where Scholomance was, and why the perceived German locations were selected, never mind why it was a mountain and not a castle.
I enjoyed this book very much and already recommended it to a friend. It has just enough sex, violence, and drama to make it a perfectly balanced read.
Five stars it is.