Friday 10 March 2023

CBR15 Book 10: "The Golden Enclaves" by Naomi Novik

Page count: 416 pages
Audio book length: 14 hrs 49 mins
Rating: 5 stars

This is the concluding volume in a trilogy. It won't really work for you unless you've read the previous two books. Start with A Deadly Education. Also, this review will contain spoilers for the previous book in the series, so proceed at your own risk if you're not caught up. 

Galadriel "El" Higgins has done the impossible. She has not only made it out of the Scholomance with her entire graduating senior class, but with every other student in the school as well. Everyone is alive and safe, except for one important exception. Orion Lake, who El had only really allowed herself to accept that she loved towards the end of the school year, when it seemed like maybe their insanely ambitious plan might work after all, and who literally threw her out of the gates of the school to face an enormous mawmouth by himself. El tries to spend incredible amounts of mana to get back into the school, only to find herself cut off entirely and can't do anything but grieve.

Her mother, Gwen, is beyond happy to have her daughter back, but she's also terrified when El tells her about Orion and her improbable book of Golden Sutras. The price both Gwen and El paid for El to be able to bring the book with her out of the Scholomance has been staggering, and now they are both left to grieve their loved ones. Not that El gets a lot of time in the yurt in Wales to nurse her grief. The indomitable Liesl, the senior class valedictorian shows up and demands that El come help the London enclave fight and kill a mawmouth. El is the only one on record who has been able to ever kill one singlehandedly, and now the London enclave will be lost unless El comes and helps.

Once she's performed the disgusting and gruelling task, the London wizards are shocked to realise that not only does El not want to become a member of their enclave, she wants nothing in return for her actions than for the enclave grounds to be opened up to all the magically inclined in London, so not only the privileged enclavers get to see the glories of the grounds. Having killed the relatively small mawmouth in London and finally putting all the poor people it had consumed over the years to rest, El realises that she has to go back inside the Scholomance, to kill Patience, the gigantic mawmouth that will inevitably have consumed Orion because she can't bear the thought of him suffering inside it for all eternity. The only place she is likely to get enough mana to attempt such a feat is in Orion's home enclave, New York. Which will mean meeting and facing Orion's parents - something El's not sure she's ready for. 

Because I waited until the final book was published before reading book two, I thankfully didn't have to wait a whole year for the cliffhanger at the end of that one to be resolved. I also waited long enough to finish the series that I read multiple reviews from others that reassured me that this volume wasn't going to be a letdown. What Naomi Novik has achieved with these books is impressive. They are classed as Young Adult because the characters are still teenagers, but so many of the familiar tropes and expectations of the subgenre are cleverly subverted and some really serious themes and moral quandaries are explored over the course of the series.

As I mentioned in my review of The Last Graduate, part of what really works for me about these books is the cast of characters. I don't just like reading about El and Orion, but all of their friends and compatriots too. With each book, Novik reveals more of how her magical universe functions, and in this last book, we are finally given more insight into the enclaves and how they are formed, not to mention where the horrible (and very creatively imagined) monsters originate and why they're so drawn to wizard adolescents. 

Based on the previous two books, I wasn't really worried that Naomi Novik was going to mess up the ending of this trilogy. I'm nevertheless greatly relieved that I can now wholeheartedly recommend this whole completed series to anyone who likes clever and dark fantasy. 

Judging a book by its cover: The covers are really my least favourite part of the series, but it seems appropriate that this final volume has a pale golden colour, like the golden sutras that El treasures so much. I still wish there was a bit more to the covers than a uniform colour and some mystical symbols, though. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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