The Golden Enclaves
The Golden Enclaves is the third in a duology (yes, you read that right) about a deadly, dangerous version of Hogwarts which exists in a universe where magic is more curse than blessing.
Novik dumps readers straight into the action from where the last book left off and the story will not be coherent to anyone who hasn’t read the earlier volumes. This review will contain both spoilers for those novels and inexplicable terms used during the saga that the uninitiated may not understand.
El is finally home but it is not the joyful experience she had expected, and she spends most of her time crying. Immediately after her return to her mom’s, she had tried various spells to take her back to the Scholomance until her mana was drained dry but nothing had worked and tears are all she has left. She has no way to defeat Patience, no way to return to the school, and no way to save Orion – or so she thinks.
Just when she is really getting into the groove of feeling sorry for herself, Liesel and Alfie show up. The London Enclave is under attack by a maw mouth and the creature has already eaten several powerful wizards. Alfie’s father is preparing to lead a last stand, but the teens are pretty certain it will result in his death – which will fuel the maw mouth sufficiently to destroy that entire community.
El, as the only living person who has ever single-handedly killed that type of maleficaria, is beseeched/bullied into going and lending a hand. She does and lo and behold, what she claimed in the first twenty percent of the book was absolutely impossible turns out to be quite easy for her. A few twists and turns later and El starts to wonder if she can’t, in fact, go back, save Orion, destroy Patience and finally, finally make the Scholomance into just a (very) bad memory.
It’s never a good sign when an author’s story gets so far out of their control that it requires a whole book to address the issue, so I entered this novel with low expectations but also with a smidgeon of hope in my heart that an author as good as Ms. Novik could exceed them.
I’ll start with the positives. Ms. Novik typically combines a fascinating narrative with lyrical prose and while there are definite glitches in both of those aspects in this story, it is still eminently readable. There is just enough mystery about what will happen to keep you turning the pages and enough decent writing that it is fairly easy to keep doing so. The book provides a definitive conclusion. The major problems that have driven the saga receive resolution and all the characters we know and love are left in a better place, if not always a safe one (almost impossible in this world.) Another positive is the world-building. It is appropriately complex and each aspect of it is well explained.
Now the negatives. Everything is so well clarified that some portions surpass being explanatory and are simply info-dumps and I wound up skimming several paragraphs per chapter that are just unnecessarily detailed. Weirdly, where the author chooses to skimp is in relationship building and character development. For example, I’m not sure how long it is appropriate to mourn the (alleged) death of someone you love who saved your life numerous times, but I am sure it is more than a month. El doesn’t even hit that mark before having sex with Liesel, whom she mostly doesn’t like. Then El feels free to yell at Orion’s parents for not being sad enough over his death because like, they’re evil, and that makes it all okay. Parents who, despite their flaws are looking for ways to help their son while El is having sex with someone other than her supposed love. This was especially disappointing for two reasons. One is that El doesn’t do relationships easily because she doesn’t trust, so the sex made almost no sense given previous context, and the second is that El had “imagined (herself) with Orion or alone, never anything else.” Two books were spent building exactly that vibe into their relationship and then with no buildup whatsoever this (El and Liesel) happens. Her new lover by the way is also in a relationship with Alfie, whom Liesel is using in order to move up in the ranks in the London Enclave, and Alfie is open to the affair because he hopes to make use of El. Always what you should want in your hookups – to be useful to your lover’s lover.
El’s character arc has dealt primarily with her trying to balance two (seemingly) diametrically opposed factors: her paternal grandmother’s prophecy that El is destined to be an extremely powerful Enclave-destroying dark wizard and her generous, kindly, wise, and utterly good mother’s upbringing. Side note: I don’t believe in perfectly good people, which is how her mother is depicted. The universe and Scholomance seem to support the prophecy by endlessly supplying El with spells meant for devastation: she can’t clean her room with magic but ask her to take down a city and she has just the incantation to get the job done. During the last several years, she’s learned that her choices don’t have to be defined by others and has started to make decisions she feels comfortable with. I felt El lost a lot of that growth in this novel: she makes impetuous decisions (see above) rather than thoughtful ones, loses the bone-deep love she feels for Orion, and resorts to simplistic black-and-white judgments. Which is deeply troublesome given that she does indeed find herself making decisions that impact thousands of lives.
Orion has barely any page time and what little time he is given mostly breaks from his previously established character.
The plotting is a mess. It’s as though the author accidentally took a wrong turn to where she was going and had to take a lot of side roads back to the path that led to the original destination. Too much of this happens to go into, but one small example is how the free plane ride is explained.
The cherry on top is that the book also contains my least favorite trope – misunderstood bad relatives. In this case, people who had shunned El and her mother for years become good with a sweep of the poisoned pen. Either don’t redeem or write nuanced from the beginning. This particular big misunderstanding is so overused in fiction right now that it surpassed trite and clichéd to land at lazy and eye-roll inducing a long time ago.
The Golden Enclaves is a mess of good and bad, like a delicious dish where one too many ingredient substitutions were made. The primary selling point is that it is the ending to a series whose penultimate book contained a cliffhanger and most folks will want closure. It works in that respect, but readers waiting for this book to come out to decide whether or not to read the series might want to give the whole thing a pass.
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I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.