The Golden Enclaves (The Scholomance Lesson 3) by Naomi Novik (book review)
There are times when after reading a book of high quality, there is an apprehension about starting the next book in the series in case it is an anti-climax. There is a feeling that everything has been said, loose ends have been mostly tied up and the characters are now free to get on with their lives. This is the concern in the hiatus between the end of ‘The Last Graduate’ and ‘The Golden Enclaves’. In the event, there is no need to worry, this is an excellent continuation.
We were introduced to El (short for Galadriel) in ‘A Deadly Education’. She is a student in the Scholomance. Children with the potential for magic go there at fourteen and spend four years honing their skills. It’s not just another school for wizards as there are no teachers as the Scholomance sets all the assignments. The problem is that the place is infested with mals, creatures whose one aim is to kill students. Only the survivors get to graduate. Outside the Scholomance, most wizards live in enclaves which protect them from the mals roaming the world and which would eat the wizards. This is a world that contains two kinds of magic: mana and malia. Mals are attracted to mana and absorb it from the wizards they kill. Normal humans are mostly unaware of them as they have no mana to harvest.
‘The Last Graduate’ sees the final year students, including El, preparing for the day when they have to run the gauntlet and escape from the Scholomance without being eaten. The experience of the years in the Scholomance has prepared El for what comes next, even though she doesn’t appreciate it at the time. One of the most formidable of the mals is a mawmouth, which ingests the students and keeps them alive while digesting their mana. El managed to kill one, something that only one person had done before. She also has a fate hanging over her. As a baby, she was taken to her father’s enclave, he didn’t survive graduation, and was turned away with her grandmother prophesying that El would grow up to destroy the enclaves. Her mother brought her up outside an enclave in Wales.
When she graduated, El had with her a book of spells that gave instructions for building new enclaves using mana. What she left behind was Orion, the boy she had fallen in love with. He had pushed her out when the doors closed behind the students. A number of things happen that push El into action rather than hiding in Wales with her mother. There are reports that some of the established enclaves are failing. Some of her fellow students from the London enclave turn up and tell her that London is under attack and would she come and deal with the mawmouth. While in the enclave, she learns a number of things that send her first to the New York enclave where she meets Orion’s mother and then back into the Scholomance to rescue Orion. When she realises that one of her friends is in danger, she begins to discover what mawmouths really are and how they came into existence.
El is the first person narrator in all three of these books and comes across as a young woman of determination. She has gone through her life with the threat hanging over her that she will destroy the enclaves and had tried to accrue only mana, avoiding the easy route of malia, with the hope that she can prove the prophesy wrong. She didn’t make many friends in the Scholomance but is fiercely loyal to them. The trilogy is a voyage of discovery, not just for the reader finding out about the magical system El lives in, but for El herself as she works her way through the obstacles in her path, learning the value of friends and tempering her growing skills with the desire to do what is right. She also learns that it is okay to ask for help.
The three volumes make up one narrative and are beautifully conceived and written. To appreciate them, start at the beginning. For those who have enjoyed the first two, this will not disappoint.
(pub: Del Rey, New York, 2022. 407 page hardback. Price: $28.00 (US), $37.99 (CAN), £163.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-593-15835-7)
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