I may not have been quite as wowed as the general public by the first two books of Naomi Novik’s award-winning Scholomance series, but I had a whole lot of fun with both A Deadly Education and The Last Graduate and was excited to return to the world for the trilogy closer, The Golden Enclaves.
[Note: while I try to be oblique in my spoiler references, this review assumes context from the first two books—modest spoilers from previous entries are inevitable].
The Golden Enclaves picks up immediately after the cliffhanger final scene of The Last Graduate, with El escaping the Scholomance and returning to Wales alone. But despite the continuity from an excellent previous book, it takes a while for the finale to find its footing. After all, it has dispensed with the Scholomance setting that drove so much of the first two books, and El’s difficulty processing the events of The Last Graduate robs some vivacity from her trademark meandering narration. And the much-anticipated reunion with her mother—which promised to be so fascinating after her changes inside the school—badly underwhelms.
Even when some danger enters the picture—because there can be no Scholomance book without danger—it feels almost perfunctory, with such incredible power creep that it retroactively removes some of the intensity of the previous books. Put simply, it was an uninspiring start.
But a trip to New York to meet Orion’s family kicks the plot back into gear and allows El to be something of herself again, setting off on an enclave-hopping journey that would deliver some of the best moments of the entire series. The ongoing series theme of wealthy families choosing the best for their children, no matter who is harmed in the process, progresses to its most shocking point so far, and so many small seeds planted earlier in the series bloom in a sequence of revelations that send the stakes skyrocketing while providing an intense emotional punch. The third quarter of this book is the series at its absolute best, and I’m honestly not sure it’s close. It’s well-paced and extraordinarily exciting, with intimate stakes and plenty of thematic depth.
And then the ending…well, the ending wraps things up. I’m not sure I would’ve bought every aspect if I’d squinted too hard, but it brings the whole trilogy some reasonably satisfying closure. And if it doesn’t have the raw power to match the previous two installments, perhaps that’s to be expected. After all, you can’t end every book in the series on a cliffhanger, and it would’ve been difficult to script an ending that felt completely earned and matched the emotional arc of the series. An ending that takes the series to another level is the dream, but an ending that answers the big questions and doesn’t ruin the memory of what’s come before is a reasonable consolation.
So overall, it’s a mixed bag. The second half of the book pushes hard toward a five-star rating, but it’s held back by an uninspiring start and an ending that doesn’t maintain the momentum of the third-quarter. The thematic work is top-notch, but the power creep is as bad as it’s been all series, and the book loses something by generally eschewing the Scholomance setting. On balance, it’s a four-star book—perhaps a hair under—not quite to the level of its predecessor. But while it may not be consistent enough to win over series critics, its best moments are absolutely outstanding and make it a must-read for anyone who enjoyed the first two.
Recommended if you like: the first two books of the series, themes of opportunity-hoarding at others’ expense.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Features Mental Health, and it’s also Published in 2022, Family Matters, and I suppose arguably Urban Fantasy.
Overall rating: 15 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.