Book Review: The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 3 of Scholomance
Publisher: Del Rey (September 27, 2022)
Length: 496 pages
The Last Graduate was one of my favorite books I read in 2021—a huge comeback from my less than impressed reaction to the first book, A Deadly Education. A sequel that manages to rectify or improve upon all the flaws of its predecessor is a rare thing indeed, which was why I was optimistic that the upwards trend would continue with the final installment of the trilogy, so I was very excited to pick up The Golden Enclaves.
Since the story begins in the immediate aftermath of the previous book (which ended on a killer cliffhanger), it is highly recommended that you are caught up with the series before continuing with this review, as references to events and spoilers from the first two books will be all but inevitable. For years our protagonist Galadriel “El” Higgins has been attending Scholomance, a school for magically gifted children. In order to graduate though, students in their senior year must pass a final test which involves running a gauntlet against a swarm of maleficaria, or “mals”, which are monsters that feed on magic. Every year some students fall to the mals, but this year El had an idea to change things. For weeks, she and her fellow classmates had been training hard to pull off her plan of ensuring everyone succeeded in completing the gauntlet. There should have been no more death, and everyone was supposed to graduate.
Except something went wrong at the most critical moment. Our protagonist’s former nemesis-turned-boyfriend Orion Lake had stayed behind to make sure everyone else got through, then shut the magical gates on El before she could save him from his sacrifice. Now she is heartbroken and filled with guilt, thinking herself to blame for her true love being tortured and devoured for eternity by a soul-sucking monster. El knows she’ll never be able to rest until she puts an end to Orion’s suffering, but to do that, she will need a way to regain entry into the crumbling depths of Scholomance, a feat that will take some powerful allies, not to mention an astronomical amount of mana.
After reading The Golden Enclaves, I’m probably placing my rating for it slightly above A Deadly Education, but still far below The Last Graduate. I had some pretty high expectations going into this one, but ultimately my hopes for a five-star ending to this trilogy failed to materialize, though granted, this wasn’t a bad book. There were some high points in the story, including getting to know more about El’s family as well as Orion’s family, but more on the novel’s strengths later, as I want to first touch upon its weaknesses.
Perhaps my biggest issue with The Golden Enclaves was the pacing. While I understood El’s need to grieve, the beginning of the book ended up being a dreadful slog of just watching our protagonist as she brooded up the place. She quickly became the girl I disliked again, a step back from all the progress she made in the previous book, highlighting the positive impact that other characters like her friends (especially Orion) had on her personality. Alone again, and without her boyfriend, El retreated back in herself, becoming ill-tempered and self-absorbed once more. Whether it’s her sadness or desperation affecting her motivations, El also made a couple of questionable decisions and interactions with other characters that made little sense to me. Needless to say, these changes in her character hardly made me feel as sympathetic towards her for this book.
As for the positives, as I said, I liked how The Golden Enclaves expanded the world-building, essentially throwing open the doors to the greater international network of magical organizations out there. Not only did we get a glimpse into how magic users lived day-to-day, but the story also explored consequences of the different social classes and how all the enclaves, schools, and other powerful magical communities were connected to each other, including how El herself and her family fit into the overall picture. Then there were the surprising revelations about Orion’s family, which led to some major repercussions for the plot. I’ve always loved the world-building for this series, and the only negative I can level on this front is how I wished there had been less info-dumping, which isn’t normally an issue for an experienced author like Naomi Novik, so that was a little surprising.
Still, all in all, I enjoyed being able to complete the Scholomance trilogy, despite it not being everything I’d hoped for. While I wouldn’t exactly call it a tidy ending, it worked in its own way, and it was an interesting and rewarding conclusion overall even if we had to go through a bit of a struggle to get there.