In which it turns out that Novik has been plotting things a LOT more tightly than we expected
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on December 23, 2022
The Golden Enclaves has a unique challenge among third books. In most trilogies, we know the story that’s left to complete – the rebellion’s success or failure, the fight against a Big Bad, that kind of thing. But The Last Graduate felt like an end to El’s saga – hell, as the title implies, she left school, and without spoiling the arc of book two, it feels a series wrap on the Scholomance itself. So as I started the third book, the real question was: what even is this book going to be?
And then, The Golden Enclaves does one of my favorite things that a book can do: it reveals, slowly and carefully, that this whole series has been a lot more carefully and deliberately plotted than I realized, and that Novik has been playing a long, complex game to set up the knockouts here that she’s had waiting for us.
Broadly speaking, The Golden Enclaves is about the world outside the Scholomance, and it continues the work that The Last Graduate did in interrogating the premise and facts of this world. And, what’s more, just as Graduate dealt with the unintended but entirely logical consequences of the end of A Deadly Education, Enclaves finds the world dealing with the ramifications and ripple effect of the ending of Graduate – and to understand that impact, it means understanding the nature of this magical world – and looking at the very dark underbelly of it all.
If The Last Graduate was our heroine and her group beginning to question the system that put them in a hellish endurance test of a school, The Golden Enclaves finds them pursuing those questions about justice, fairness, social equity, and class warfare into the larger world, seeing how the choices were made that led up to the creation of a magical school where surviving is the minority, not the majority. And in the middle of this is El, whose quest for righting wrongs and eliminating the upper class enclaves that have all the power fits perfectly into the chaos that’s unfolding, but also finds her making some horrifying discoveries about the cost people in this world are paying for their safety.
What The Golden Enclaves makes clear is how much this series has always been one about justice and fairness, and about how those without power and status are forced to kiss the ring to survive in the world. It’s a series about how a spoiled kid hailed as a chosen one is never treated like a person, just a tool; it’s a book about how no one cares about the outcast kids until it turns out they have something everyone needs. And it’s a series about how when you keep forcing people off the edges of society, eventually they’re going to push back.
It is also, mind you, a massively entertaining series about man-eating monsters, about magical nightmares and crimes, with action sequences to spare, a sardonic narrator who’s afraid of giving herself anything she wants, a rich world that only makes more and more sense the more we learn about it. It is a series that moves like a rocket, anchored by its witty prose, its rich world, and a hell of a story to tell along the way. In other words, it’s a fantastic series – every time I finished a book, I instantly bought the next, because to hell with waiting for another one. I loved it, and I’ve already forced it on lots of people – and hopefully more with this review.
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