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The Golden Enclaves

October 5, 2022

Third in the Scholomance series (A Deadly Education, The Last Graduate), Naomi Novik’s The Golden Enclaves is an exciting ending to an innovative magical boarding school trilogy. In this one, El and her friends have graduated but they still have a few more almost-impossible tasks to perform.

At the beginning of the book, El is in the position of everyone who has ever lost someone they loved and longed for necromancy, and she has lots of power, which puts her in a position much like Wanda’s in the TV series Wandavision:
“I can’t tell you what I was thinking when I started creating a spell that would let me literally alter the fabric of reality. That sort of thing just doesn’t work on a long-term basis, no matter how powerful you are Reality is more powerful, and it will eventually bounce your attempt off, generally disintegrating you personally along with it.”

Eventually El recovers enough to be able to turn her power to doing what everyone around her sees as good, like rescuing the London enclave from a maw-mouth. She has to be talked into it, though, and her friend Alfie goes so far as to pledge “my word and my mana on it,” which irritates her. As she explains it,

“If London enclave didn’t pay me back adequately—which was going to be hard since I couldn’t actually think of anything I wanted on that scale, apart from things I couldn’t get, such as bringing Orion back to life—it was entirely possible he’d have to literally follow me around trying to pay me back for the rest of his life. It’s a very bad idea to promise an evil witch that you’ll do anything in exchange for her help; that’s how some maleficers end up with loyal Igor-like minions slavishly in their train.”

I love the way Novik works in little insights into how magic works in this world, like what makes a house haunted:
“If a mundane ever did poke their nose into the dilapidated wreck of the place, they’d be given just enough of that space back to keep them from noticing while they were here, and if they were mad enough to want to linger for any length of time, with the whine and creak of a rotting house and the mysterious whooshes of air as space moved in and out of reality around them, it was entirely likely that one of the hungry mals lurking round the fringes of the enclave would manage to get them during the witching hours of the night, when mundanes do, briefly, believe in magic.”

Halfway through the book, they go back into the Scholomance, which takes a lot of courage. As El explains it, “you could only go into the Scholomance once, when you didn’t understand where you were going: to the endless awful hope of getting out, a hope you could only buy with other people, who were all trying to buy the same hope with you, and the open maw of Patience and Fortitude waiting at the end so you couldn’t even be sure of getting out by dying.”

El learns to use the book she found in the library, and finds out why it came to her. She learns secrets about enclave-building. She rescues her friends, saving Liu from a fate worse than death. She makes it so that people are no longer “being endlessly tortured to death so someone else could live in luxury on their graves.”

There are a couple of things that I could quibble about, like why El and Liesel trust each other or exactly what happens with Orion at the end, but I feel like letting Novik get away with waving a hand at those things. Quibbling would be like looking sideways at the theater and realizing you’re in the audience, rather than continuing to suspend your disbelief.

At what seems like the climax, when they’re trying to get in somewhere to save the magical world, we find out that our heroes can’t do it just by trying really hard:
“we found one of the brochures lying half singed under a bush, but it wasn’t much more use: it told us what order we had to go to the various places, and that we had to perform vigils and so forth, but provided no details about any of the oaths or incantations. So we got ourselves out of the gardens and broke into the gift shop at the front of the museum and all sat round skimming urgently through the various tomes about Freemasonry. It was almost like being back in a study group at school, which wasn’t a recommendation for the experience: it’s not very pleasant knowing your life depends on ferreting out an obscure reference in the footnotes of a history book so boring your eyes and brain glaze over in the first ten minutes of reading.”

Novik knows something about good writing, and the final book of this series is a page-turner with an ending that seems inevitable, although it’s not predictable. If you haven’t started reading this series already, this is the time.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 7, 2022 8:20 am

    I can’t really read your review of this one because I still haven’t read the second book! I keep meaning to, but you know how that goes. It usually takes me a while to complete series.

    • October 9, 2022 8:11 am

      This is a really fun series; it’s a great one to have for sometime when you don’t know what to read!

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