“We’re all greedy, but children make it easier to be. We feel it’s only right to give them everything we can grab, even when you know that anything you feed your own child still comes out of someone else’s mouth.”
The Golden Enclaves and the entire Scholomance series have been a long dark road full of twists and turns. What started as a run-of-the-mill dark academia story became a gripping grimdark story with a morally gray heroine that you may not like, but you can certainly get behind. Because while the story has solid side characters, especially in The Golden Enclaves, the journey is that of Galadriel, or El as she likes to be called. El, could be a dark sorcerous who can make mountains bow before her, and all mothers of the world cry out in weeping anguish. To quote her namesake the original Galadriel, “Instead of a Dark Lord, you would have a queen, not dark but beautiful and terrible as the dawn! Tempestuous as the sea, and stronger than the foundations of the Earth! All shall love me and despair!”
That is, if she chooses to go down that path, which is the crux of the story and her nagging fear.
The Golden Enclaves starts out just as we left off, with El and company having fought a host of maleficaria hell-bent on their destruction. El released her power and a spell that could crack the Earth if she chose to. Instead, it split the Scholomance dimension off this plane, and hopefully all the demons with it. Did it work? As the book blurb can attest, sorta. “Ha, only joking! Actually it’s gone all wrong. Someone else has picked up the project of destroying enclaves in my stead, and probably everyone we saved is about to get killed in the brewing enclave war on the horizon. And the first thing I’ve got to do now, having miraculously got out of the Scholomance, is turn straight around and find a way back in.”
El is out of the immediate danger of Scholomance but has been thrust into an entirely different sort of danger, that of intrigue and guile. As she puts it, “my own personal trolly problem to solve.” This is where her friends and supporting characters truly shine. El might be unimaginably powerful, but she sucks when it comes to people. She has had to have a wall of outright unapproachability to protect others. “My anger’s a bad guest, my mother likes to say: comes without warning and stays a long time.”
Her having to play nice with the different enclaves to achieve a single goal is very new. And this is where Liesel, of all people, steps in. We met Liesel in earlier books. Liesel is a social climber and so practical in her approach to things it skirts being robotic. She sees angles in everything and, in her blatant practicality, is immune to all of El’s “charms.” Because only the outcome matters, she is the embodiment of all El has hated her entire life. But El discovers that while Liesel’s nature is of brutal practicality is offputting; she has developed it to survive, much like El has developed her cantankerous shell. As much as El hates it, they have a lot of similarities. The first and foremost is surviving Enclave life.
Plotwise, The Golden Enclaves is not the type of book one can talk about without ruining it. But I can tell you that The Golden Enclaves soars to the finale. It is a mile-a-minute story where every page is revelatory. Instead of crashing at the end of this series as many authors do, their stories spent and the characters tired, Novik soars and rages on. Her characters do not going gently into that goodnight. I loved The Golden Enclaves and am so glad I took the journey through Scholomance with Novik. It was a hell of a ride.