Book Review : The Golden Enclaves

This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Book Review : The Golden EnclavesThe Golden Enclaves (The Scholomance, #3) by Naomi Novik
Published by Del Rey Books on September 27th 2022
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Romance, Urban Fantasy, Wizards & Witches, Young Adult
Pages: 496
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Saving the world is a test no school of magic can prepare you for in the triumphant conclusion to the New York Times bestselling trilogy that began with A Deadly Education and The Last Graduate.
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.

With some cautiously reserved excitement, I preordered The Golden Enclaves, the final entry in The Scholomance Trilogy. The predecessor to this final installment, The Last Graduate, ended with a massive cliffhanger, leaving the fate of the male lead, Orion Lake, looking very bleak—so I was pretty invested in finding out what befell him and how protagonist Galadriel “El” Higgins reacted. I never would have guessed the sequence of events that unfolded in The Golden Enclaves.


Presuming the boy she loves dead and with the plan to destroy the Scholomance and the maleficarias it housed successfully enacted, El is stranded back home in Wales, reeling. She isn’t given long to grieve, however, as her classmates soon require her destructive magical powers to save their enclaves and the wizarding world at large. I really loved seeing the wizarding world outside of the Scholomance for the first time in The Golden Enclaves. It was fun to see not only inside the Enclaves, but also to witness the “ordinary” life of wizards, with magical cars that allow them to find a parking spot even in the heart of New York City, and everything else we had not glimpsed before when El was at school. 


“Except the girl Orion loved wasn’t a gentle, kind healer, she was a sorceress of mass destruction who on two occasions had already managed to shred maw-mouths apart, and the stupid bloody fool could have tried trusting me to do it again.”


I especially enjoyed seeing more of El’s mom, who is the exact opposite of her daughter in her many ways. It was fun to see what life was like on their communal compound in Wales and how they lived in their yurt and worked in the woods. I also loved the peeks at El’s mother’s magic as well. So much of it relies on trusting in the good of the universe and it was nice to finally see more of the woman who shaped El into the determinedly “good” dark sorceress she is today. I would have really liked to see more of this magic, but I guess there simply was not enough time.


As El travels from enclave to enclave, she uncovers the dark secrets of how these safe havens for wizards are created in the first place. The Golden Enclaves goes hard on the questioning of sacrificing the few for the greater good of the many. I’ve seen a lot of other reviewers praising the introspection on this theme, but I have to say, I didn’t find this surface level examination that scintillating. I feel that this moral conundrum is something that has been analyzed in entertainment time and time again and even in our real world. I also really didn’t feel that El needed yet another reason to violently feel she stood on the moral high ground, as she always believes that anyways. To me, her righteous anger and judgment was tired at this point and amounted to little more than “malia user: gross.” To the very end of the Scholomance series, El’s convictions were never truly challenged, which I think is not only a shame, but also narratively boring and playing it safe.  


It was ironic to me that El was still considering herself a better person than all of these Enclavers, when she herself was exhibiting some pretty questionable morals herself. Though I waited almost two entire books for El and Orion to express their romantic feelings for each other and their relationship formed one of the cornerstones of the series, I was absolutely horrified when El entered a romantic relationship with Liesel, a girl she doesn’t even like. The first time the two hooked up, El was reeling from the death of Orion and Liesel was by El’s side and willing. Though I didn’t like El’s actions at all, I could at least understand that it was human, and that in her grief, she made a poor choice to sleep with someone she didn’t care for out of a desire for some temporary comfort.


But when she finds out Orion Lake is alive, El goes back to him, has sex with him, and then turns around and has sex with Liesel again. It is not out of some new realized feelings for Liesel, but pure lust and convenience. I was further horrified that El never came clean to Orion about her sleeping with Liesel! Nor does she ever have a conversation with Liesel about sleeping with Orion.  I honestly didn’t understand what the author was thinking with these events. Was she just trying to make El appear like an empowered bisexual queen who wasn’t afraid of sexual gratification? If so, that agenda woefully missed the mark with me, as all it did was make me like El less—a whole lot less. 


“Antonio said, ‘You got us all out last time. You and Orion,’ and my throat got tight as he spoke. ‘You got us out for good, and now they’re starting a war over the bones. There’s a better way. We know there’s a better way. And you’re trying to find it. We’ll all come.'”


I found myself having trouble even coming to terms that that storyline with Liesel was even in the realm of possibility and was actually happening. And like in the previous novel, The Last Graduate, I also struggled to believe how positively helpful all of El’s former classmates were being. Despite being from different Enclaves and being on the brink of an all out Enclave war, the classmates are all tripping over themselves to help El. She doesn’t encounter a single classmate who is unwilling to help her, which just seemed unrealistic and far too easy to me. 


I also had to question how much of what occurred in The Golden Enclaves was really planned from the very beginning of the series. I wonder if the revelations of the origins of Orion’s massive mal-killing power and how Enclaves were created were intended to be that way from the very getgo or if it was something thought up at the end; I could honestly see it either way—planned or not. Regardless of whether these things were actually premeditated, I found the conclusion resulting from them and to the series as a whole, to be unsatisfying. 


“I imagine it’s always easier to do something monstrous if you can convince yourself you aren’t going to, up to the last minute, until you do.”


I was disappointed that El never really had a huge face off with any kind of big evil, like Ophelia Lake, who is clearly supposed to be El’s literary foil, but never quite achieves it. It’s been built up throughout the Scholomance trilogy that El has so much power and could be the greatest darkest sorceress who ever lives, and though I never wanted her to turn evil, she never once backslides or is forced to make a decision that compromises her ideals to be strictly a mana practitioner. Up until the very end of The Golden Enclaves, El herself considers how easy it would be for her to slip into using malia magic, her classmates stress the importance of keeping her tethered to using strictly mana, and its hinted that she would be even more powerful that Ophelia Lake herself, but not once do these hints go remotely anywhere. 


I think it would have been far more interesting if El had loved Orion enough to compromise on those morals, to maybe even dip a toe into malia usage. Perhaps she was offered a way to save him by his mother that forces her to make the ultimate sacrifice to her holier-than-thou ideals. I imagined even if Orion and El had ended up on opposing sides, even if for a little while, and the destruction this kind of battle would wreak on both the wizarding and mundane worlds. Instead, Orion, who has very little actual page time or dialogue, somehow manages to implicitly trust El throughout, even though she has proved herself unworthy of his confidence and faith in her by cheating on him multiple times. And El is never even remotely tempted to take the easy way out even to save the boy she loves or her friends. What a wasted opportunity for character development and drama, in my opinion, for El to so securely sit on her moral high horse. 


What’s worse than these giant missed opportunities is that the ending we are given sees Orion forever bound to the revamped Scholomance, with El visiting her paramour every once in a while between trips out to destroy maw mouths and rebuild enclaves. Another reviewer, Phoung aptly compared this ending to that of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann’s lackluster ending at the conclusion of The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. No one liked this type of ending then, so it baffles the mind that any writer would repeat it now. And I shudder to think about poor Orion’s feelings when he finds out El has been repeatedly unfaithful to him. 


While The Golden Enclaves was not all bad, it was certainly not the wrap-up to the series for which I had hoped. I ended up disliking El, whom I initially loved so much back in the very first entry of the series, A Deadly Education. Though I am glad I saw the series through to the very end, I found that tragically, the series never quite realized its full potential, whether with El’s powers, El and Orion’s relationships, Ophelia Lake as El’s foil, and the destruction of the enclaves. 


Posted October 4, 2022 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Young Adult


10 responses to “Book Review : The Golden Enclaves

  1. I did wonder the same thing about Maw Mouths and how much of this was planned, so went back to Book 1 and when El kills the first Maw Mouth she does notice a crushed body in a fetal position at the centre of the remains.

    • Interesting, thanks for sharing! I am still curious if she planned the source of Orion’s powers from the beginning though!

      • I don’t have any evidence, but it feels true. To make the fabled/ cliched Chosen One an instantiation of the most powerful and feared in-universe monster feels like a very Novik thing to do! And she did say she’d basically written all three books before getting the first one ready for publication

  2. I don’t consider Liesel/El cheating. On Liesel’s end she states she and Alfie are in an open relationship and it’s clearly just Friend With Benefits not romantic for both of them. Additionally, the first time it happens El believes Orion is dead and the second time he has already left her to go to his mom/their relationship status is complicated.

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