The Golden Enclaves

by Naomi Novik

Cover image

Series: The Scholomance #3
Publisher: Del Rey
Copyright: 2022
ISBN: 0-593-15836-9
Format: Kindle
Pages: 408

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The Golden Enclaves is the third and concluding book of the Scholomance trilogy and picks up literally the instant after the end of The Last Graduate. The three books form a coherent and complete story that under absolutely no circumstances should be read out of order.

This is an impossible review to write because everything is a spoiler. You're only going to read this book if you've read and liked the first two, and in that case you do not want to know a single detail about this book before you read it. The timing of revelations was absolutely perfect; I repeatedly figured out what was going on at exactly the same time that El did, which rarely happens in a book. (And from talking to friends I am not the only one.)

If you're still deciding whether to read the series, or are deciding how to prioritize the third book, here are the things you need to know:

  1. Novik nails the ending. Absolutely knocks it out of the park.
  2. Everything is explained, and the explanation was wholly satisfying.
  3. There is more Liesel, and she's even better in the third book.
  4. El's relationship with her mother still works perfectly.
  5. Holy shit.

You can now stop reading this review here and go read, assured that this is the best work of Novik's career to date and has become my favorite fantasy series of all time, something I do not say lightly.

For those who want some elaboration, I'll gush some more about this book, but the above is all you need to know.

There are so many things that I loved about this series, but the most impressive to me is how each book broadens the scope of the story while maintaining full continuity with the characters and plot. Novik moves from individuals to small groups to, in this book, systems and social forces without dropping a beat and without ever losing the characters. She could have written a series only about El and her friends and it still would have been amazing, but each book takes a risky leap into a broader perspective and she pulls it off every time.

This is also one of the most enjoyable first-person perspectives that I have ever read. (I think only Code Name Verity competes, and that's my favorite novel of all time.) Whether you like this series at all will depend on whether you like El, because you spend the entire series inside her head. I loved every moment of it. Novik not infrequently pauses the action to give the reader a page or four of El's internal monologue, and I not only didn't mind, I thought those were the best parts of the book. El is such a deep character: stubborn, thoughtful, sarcastic, impulsive, but also ethical and self-aware in a grudging sort of way that I found utterly compelling to read.

And her friends! The friendship dynamics are so great. We sadly don't see as much of Liu in this book (for very good reasons, but I would gladly read an unnecessary sequel novella that existed just to give Liu more time with her friends), but everyone else is here, and in exchange we get much more of Liesel. There should be an Oscar for best supporting character in a novel just so that Liesel can win it. Why are there not more impatient, no-nonsense project managers in fiction?

There are a couple of moments between El and Liesel that are among my favorite character interactions in fiction.

This is also a series in which the author understands what the characters did in the previous books and the bonds that experience would form, and lets that influence how they interact with the rest of the world. I won't be more specific to avoid spoilers, but the characters worked so hard and were on edge for so long, and I felt like Novik understood the types of relationships that would create in a far deeper and more complex way than most novels. There are several moments in The Golden Enclaves where I paused in reading to admire how perfect the character reactions were, and how striking the contrast was with people who hadn't been through what they went through.

The series as a whole is chosen-one fantasy, and if you'd told me that before I read it, I would have grimaced. But this is more evidence (which I should have learned from the romance genre) that tropes, even ones that have been written many times, do not wear out, no matter what critics will try to tell you. There's always room for a great author to pick up the whole idea, turn it sideways, and say "try looking at it from this angle." This is boarding schools, chosen one, and coming of age, with the snarky first-person voice of urban fantasy, and it respects all of those story shapes, is aware of earlier work, and turns them all into something original, often funny, startlingly insightful, and thoroughly engrossing.

I am aware that anything I like this much is probably accidentally aimed at my favorite ideas as a reader and my reaction may be partly idiosyncratic. I am not at all objective, and I'm sure not everyone will like it as much as I did. But wow did I ever like this book and this series. Just the best thing I've read in a very, very long time.

Highly, highly recommended. (Start at the beginning!)

Rating: 10 out of 10

Reviewed: 2022-10-25

Last modified and spun 2022-10-26