The Golden Enclaves
- Author: Naomi Novik
- Genre: YA Fantasy
- Publication Date: September 27, 2022
- Publisher: Del Rey Books
- Series: The Scholomance #3
WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for previous books in the series, but not spoilers for this book.
CONTENT WARNING: grief, blood, mention of death of a parent, murder
Saving the world is a test no school of magic can prepare you for, in the triumphant conclusion to the New York Times bestselling trilogy that began with A Deadly Education and The Last Graduate.
The one thing you never talk about while you’re in the Scholomance is what you’ll do when you get out. Not even the richest enclave would tempt fate that way. But it’s all we dream about: the hideously slim chance we’ll survive to make it out of the gates and improbably find ourselves with a life ahead of us, a life outside the Scholomance halls.
And now the impossible dream has come true. I’m out—we’re all out—and I didn’t even have to turn into a monstrous dark witch to make it happen. So much for my great-grandmother’s prophecy of doom and destruction. I didn’t kill enclaves, I saved them. Me and Orion and our allies. Our graduation plan worked to perfection: We saved everyone and made the world safe for all wizards and brought peace and harmony to all the enclaves everywhere.
Ha, only joking! Actually, it’s all gone wrong. Someone else has picked up the project of destroying enclaves in my stead, and probably everyone we saved is about to get killed in the brewing enclave war. And the first thing I’ve got to do now, having miraculously gotten out of the Scholomance, is turn straight around and find a way back in.
I was so excited to start this one, and before starting this one, I did a quick reread of the previous books in the series. This only made me even more excited to read this book, and reaffirmed my love for El and the series overall.
I honestly didn’t love El’s character when I was first introduced to her, at the beginning of book 1. However, she grew on me over the course of that book. Novik gives her so much room for growth as we get to know her and see who she really is behind those high walls that she keeps up around her. And we understand why she has those walls up. She isn’t a sunny person, in fact, I believe she’s described as giving off a “feeling like it’s going to rain,” and was prophesied to become a dark sorceress and bring death and destruction to all the enclaves of the world when she was just a young girl. So her mother saved her life and brought her up in the back of beyond, in a yurt at a commune in Wales, among mostly non-magical folk. It doesn’t help that her mother *is* a sunny person who naturally draws people to her and makes them want to help her, and it only serves to pronounce the differences in their personalities.
“Of course, Mum doesn’t have a passport or a mobile either. She’d have told me to just set off into the world and trust it to get me where I’m supposed to be. That always works for her, but the world has given me the strong impression that it thinks I’m supposed to be in a dark fortress on top of a mountain somewhere, wreathed with storms and lightning cracking down as I laugh maniacally, so I didn’t really trust that approach myself.”
Now that El and the rest of the kids are out of the Scholomance, I already knew that things weren’t going to be sunshine and rainbows, because this is El’s story. After Orion pushed her out of the Scholomance, she’s experiencing a lot of mixed emotions—anger and grief and guilt are chief among them, and because of who she is, she doesn’t quite know how to process them and isn’t about to be asking for help. However, her growth continues even further in this book, where she continues to get outside of her comfort zone and leans on the people that she’s built relationships with inside the Scholomance to help and support her outside of the Scholomance. Naturally, this expands so that she can form bonds with other people as well, and even resolve some of her internal conflicts (especially her fears about becoming a dark sorceress), and even learn how to manage her emotions a bit better.
While the narrative very much centers around El, the side characters also shine in this story. Liesel plays such a big role in this story, and I was glad to see her in it. While her militaristic precision-like focus on getting things done in an orderly manner was vital to getting things done in the Scholomance, she plays a huge role in getting El out of her funk in the beginning of the story. Since I can’t really talk about the plot of this story without giving much away, I can say that Liesel is an important contributor, and she also grew on me, and we get to understand a little more about her. Also, there were at least a couple of scenes between her and El that surprised me! I loved getting to see her other friends show up throughout the story too.
The world-building inside the Scholomance was amazing, but now that we’re back out in the regular world, I was blown away by the depth of this world that Novik has created. It’s parallel to our own world, but also built partially within the void, which was really cool. I’m very much a visual reader, and while complicated concepts can often be difficult for me to visualize, Novik explains them in such a way that made it simple for me to grasp. I also love El’s straightforward, slightly sarcastic tone while doing this, informing us of little pieces of information as they come up rather than info dumping all at once. We get to see inside various enclaves, as El travels from place to place during the story:
“This had to be the oldest part of the enclave, the one that had been built when London itself was just lurching its way towards becoming a city, and it was clearly meant to make you think of the glory that was Rome. Instead it felt like Pompeii just before the flames, a thin blanket of ash laid down and more coming.”
Although the first few chapters are a bit slow, allowing us to adapt to El’s new reality, the pace picks up rather quickly. By the halfway point, it was impossible to put the book down, and when I did have to stop reading, I couldn’t put the book down at all. There were so many twists and turns that I never saw coming, and I loved how everything developed throughout the story. The action built up to a crescendo at the end, and then allowed for a cooling off period, where everything was wrapped up beautifully. This was the perfect ending to a wonderful trilogy, and in my opinion was the best book of all of them.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 12
Categories: Book Review