I was looking forward to the third and final piece of The Scholomance Trilogy, The Golden Enclaves, with lukewarm excitement. Though Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education charmed the pants off of me despite its lore dumping and endless tell not show, the second book, The Last Graduate, had big ideas that interested me less than the setting and characters and thus ultimately didn’t work as well for me. So, I wanted to know how the story ended, but I didn’t have high hopes for the themes and ideas of The Golden Enclaves—I was just looking for a little closure. Turns out everything I guessed was going to happen in book three was wrong, and the finale held a lot more cunning surprises than I expected.
For those unfamiliar with this smash hit series, The Scholomance is a trilogy about a world filled with demons that eat wizards and a horrible magical dungeon/gauntlet of a school the wizards send their kids to (called the Scholomance) to train enough to survive. The first two books take place in the Scholomance, but our final book takes us out into the wide world that we have only seen in glimpses to explore a dystopian Earth filled with magic and devils. Our protagonist of all three books, El, is now looking for a proactive way to stop the existence of demons and devils as opposed to just fighting them and surviving.
I was worried about how Novik was going to handle the transfer from her amazingly imaginative and deadly school to the rest of the world without losing the magic that made her setting so great. Turns out those fears were unfounded as Novik has stuffed the rest of the map with cool stuff to explore and awesome set pieces to look at. The setting and world continue to be this series glowing north star and it is something that really distinguishes the book from the competition.
On the negative side, The Golden Enclaves definitely struggles with pacing the most out of the three books. There are contrived sections that feel like they only exist to create plot motion when things stall out. While some sections feel very slow, others actually feel too fast as we whip from location to location and barely have time to soak in the mana before we are sped off to a new locale. All the set pieces were awesome; their treatment just feels a bit uneven.
The real pandora’s box for the book, though, is the themes. The biggest surprise for me about The Golden Enclaves is how clever I found some of its ideas and themes, especially after I did not enjoy this part of book two. First off, I would have sworn that Novik was making all of this up as she went along a book ago, but it is very apparent very quickly that everything in this series was planned out meticulously. So many things come full circle in a way that has some fabulous exploration of ideas. In particular, the interplay between selfishness vs. selflessness is brilliant as well as some keen insight into the subjects of loss and the nature of humanity in masses. On the other hand, there were also some themes I did not like very much. One great example is that I think the book accidentally implies that the only way to live a good life is through the fear of an angry god, which is not a great conclusion in my mind.
The characters also are a bit of a mixed bag. I like El a lot, but her character growth goes through some forced regression at the start of this book. There was some ground that Novik wanted to explore with her and El needed to be reset to an earlier emotional model for it to work. Though, she does definitely recover and move forward by the end in a one step back two steps forward situation. Additionally, I was very tepid about the antagonist of this book. They feel like spooky boogieman that we are told is bad without any real demonstration, and I ultimately felt indifferent about them.
All of this comes together in a book that surpassed expectations with some fabulous cunning. I don’t think I liked The Golden Enclaves as much as my first foray into the trilogy, but I definitely liked it more than The Last Graduate. In the end, I think this is a very unique and clever series that is a lot of fun but could use slightly more polish as a whole to elevate it to the next level.
The Golden Enclaves – 8.5/10
The Scholomance – 8.5/10