Serena’s Review: “The Golden Enclaves”

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Book: “The Golden Enclaves” by Naomi Novik

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, September 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: 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 enclaver would tempt fate that way. But it’s all we dream about, the hideously slim chance we’ll survive to make it out 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 enclavers, 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 of the world.

Ha, only joking! Actually it’s gone all 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 on the horizon. And the first thing I’ve got to do now, having miraculously got out of the Scholomance, is turn straight around and find a way back in.

Previously Reviewed: “A Deadly Education” and “The Last Graduate”

Review: This was probably my most anticipated release for the entire year. My sister was getting married the week it came out, and I forewarned her that I would have limited time to help as I would need to prioritize reading. JK, I didn’t actually do that (though, as she’s also an avid reader and loves this trilogy, she might just have joined me in avoiding wedding work for reading!). So, without any more prelude, let’s get into it!

Things both did and yet so very much did NOT go to plan. Yes, El and her friends managed to save the students of the Scholomance, fill the school with mals, and send it careening off into the void. No, they did not live happily ever after. In one last heroic effort, Orion was trapped and left behind in the Scholomance, doomed to a horrific end at the mercy of the most terrible type of mals there is, a mawmouth. And now a mysterious force is crippling the enclaves, provoking them into suspicion and fear, a hair’s breath away from all-out war with one another. With forces spiraling out of control and only an array of awful choices before her, El must find away to avoid her fate of becoming a world-destroying maleficier.

I was worried about this book in much the same way that I was worried about the seventh “Harry Potter” book when it came out. For one thing, the books that came before were pretty much perfection in my estimation, but the end to a series can really make or break the entire thing, even ruining excellent books that came before. For a second thing, both “Deathly Hollows” and “The Golden Enclaves” abandon the formula and setting that was so central to the series up to this point. The Scholomance was not just a school, it was a character that drove almost all of the story and plot of the first two books. So, without it…would the story hold up? Well, long story short, yes, yes it did!

What I continue to love about this series is how creatively Novik tackles concepts and themes that are very relatable to a modern reader. But under all the magical guild and guise, they’re also presented as completely organic to the story, no one message feeling particularly preachy or heavy-handed. Given the title, it will come as no surprise that much of this story revolves around the Enclaves, the powerful communities that provided shelter from the many dangers facing magical beings. But these communities are incredibly difficult to get into, leading to a very stratified culture between the haves and have-nots. Like the other two books, a large part of this book is taken up by El’s exploration and explanation of how these Enclaves work, many of their secrets being new to not only the reader but El as well. And from there, the book dives into the real meat of the story: where is the line in “the sacrifice of one for the good of the many?”

What I really appreciated in the exploration of this theme throughout the book was how handily Novik avoided coming to any easy, pat explanations. Instead, she meticulously lays out a problem, a world, and the people in that world handling that problem as nuanced and complicated. El must make choices, but these choices do not come with all the feel-good material of a righteous easy path. Instead, her path is full of rage, devastation, and the hard realization that more often than not the world is not made up of monstrous people but of monstrous situations or systems that cause people to make monstrous choices again and again.

I also loved how so many aspects of the first two books were tied up into this one. Not only do we have the prophesy that has hounded El her entire life (that she will become a destroyer of worlds), but there is also the question surrounding Orion and his unique abilities. There were some genuinely shocking reveals in this book. I had the inkling of a guess on one tiny aspect of it, but most of it was a complete surprise and I was there for it.

This book is also much darker and more grim than the previous two entries (not that they were particularly light-hearted, what with all the discussion about child and teen death rates). But from the very first page, El’s journey is one of bare, tortured persistence in the face of horror after horror. Those looking for much in the realm of quirky teenage romance (not a lot to be found before, but at least some) should prepare for a much darker tale than that. However, all of that being said, El, and this book, doggedly strive towards the hopeful, even in the face of horrible odds and terrible choices. I loved how it all came together in the end. And while no one rides off into a utopian sunset, the story felt complete and completely satisfying. Fans of the first two books (as long as you weren’t only in it for the love story) are should to love this book just as I did!

Rating 10: Superb! A perfect landing for what feels like a perfect trilogy full of challenging themes of power, family, and hope.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Golden Enclaves” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Dark Academia and Best Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy Trilogies.

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