Review: The Golden Enclaves, by Naomi Novik
eagle at eyrie.org
Tue Oct 25 20:37:56 PDT 2022
The Golden Enclaves
by Naomi Novik
Series: The Scholomance #3
Publisher: Del Rey
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
Russ Allbery (eagle at eyrie.org) <https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>
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