Adrienne Martini Reviews The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

The Golden Enclaves, Naomi Novik (Del Rey 978-0-59315-835-7, $28.00, 416 pp, hc) Sep­tember 2022.

Naomi Novik’s The Golden Enclaves wraps up her Scholomance trilogy. If you’ve not read A Deadly Education or The Last Graduate, I’d suggest skipping this review in order to read the first book fresh. This is definitely a series better enjoyed if you begin at the beginning, where you’ll meet El and what become her allies in the Scholomance, a magical school that is decidedly not Hogwarts. The Scholomance is designed to keep kids safe from the maleficaria that wants to consume them. Over the years since the school’s creation, however, maleficaria crept in and the school’s programming drifted. Students faced death every minute of every day, whether from their classmates or from malicious creatures. Even with that, sending your kid to the Scholomance increased the likelihood of any child’s survival from nearly nothing to maybe 50 percent, which is a deal any desperate parent would take.

Our (sort of) hero El, however, changed the game. In The Last Graduate, she figured out how to get her class out alive and rid the world of maleficaria, at least for a little while. The plan worked, mostly. But Orion, her boyfriend and, more importantly, the Domina of New York’s son, did not make it out.

The Golden Enclaves is about what happens next. It’s also a book about grief. El is mourning Orion’s absence, yes, but Novik goes further. She digs into what a society that is used to losing a fair percentage of its children would be like, of how the daily reminders of those losses would change how you behaved. Avoiding that pain makes the unthinkable possible as long as you can find a way to justify it.

The world’s magical enclaves, El discovers, have found a way to offset one type of agony with another. When her friend Liu disappears, El has to solve her own version of the philosophical trolley problem. Will she save one to kill many? Or kill one to keep them all safe?

While Novik’s world is grim, El’s sardonic voice and tender heart make the conclusion to her journey a reward. With the first two books, Novik set up a surprisingly charming story with an equally surprisingly high body count. In The Golden Enclaves, she gives El a satisfying place to land.

Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.

This review and more like it in the December 2022 issue of Locus.

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