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WesternSFA


The Golden Enclaves
Lesson Three of The Scholomance
by Naomi Novik
Del Rey, $28.00, 407 pp
Published: September 2022

In this world, magic exists but it comes with a high cost.  There are creatures called mals who are drawn to those with magic – for they are sustenance for the mals.  The most protected places for magic users are enclaves; basically a warded home or compound for an extended family.  But, of course, not everyone is that well-to-do and poor children are the most vulnerable.  And even for the enclaves, it is a constant challenge to keep their children safe; most magical children don’t survive childhood. So a school was built, the Scholomance.  This edifice exists outside of normal space and time and was designed to protect the children from mals while providing an education in wielding magic; so that when they graduated, they were well-provisioned with protective spells.  But it is dilapidated and poorly maintained.  While survival rates are still higher than outside, every day is a test of survival – even going to the bathroom or the cafeteria can be fatal.  The mals still find ways to infiltrate the school and everyone has to be on their guard every second.

El and all the students in the Scholomance escaped in the last book.  Except one. This was an unprecedented event but El realized it would be the only opportunity for all the lower classes.  She, El, was the only one powerful enough to hold off the mals long enough; with the assistance of her classmate (and possible lover), Orion.  But Orion didn’t follow the plan; he pushed El out the door and remained behind.  El is beyond devastated; there simply isn’t an explanation for his action.  In a state of near hysteria, she tried everything but it seemed that he was deliberately pushing her away.  In her mind, this is the end of their wonderful plans.  After all, the Scholomance had given her the ultimate gift: a way to easily and cheaply create a safe enclave.  This was information El was willing to share with everyone, at no cost.  All magic children could be really protected and no one would ever need the Scholomance again. But with the loss/betrayal of Orion, she has lost her passion.

Even though her last spell in the Scholomance was designed to lure as many mals as possible; some still remain in the world.  And enclaves all over the world are being destroyed.  And, although the enclaves resent the need to do so, they have to call on her to save them.  Now that she understands that every enclave was built with malia, the only way to save them is to change the nature of the foundation.  But, impulsive as she is, she doesn’t wait to learn what the repercussions will be.  El is the only one who can change the foundation; but it isn’t stopping the maw-mouth attacks.  When she finally realizes her actions are actually accelerating the destruction she is more than horrified.

Rescuing Orion continues to be uppermost in her mind and she decides she must go to the New York enclave, Orion’s home, and ask for help.  While she pushed the school into the void, she was pretty sure it would take a while for it to be completely gone.  There might still be a window of opportunity to pull Orion out; but she’ll need a backdoor into it.  And the New York enclave which helped create the Scholomance might be able to guide her to it.  But meeting Orion’s parents isn’t the experience she expected.  The fact that she instantly wanted to kill his mother, Ophelia, was unexpected, as well.

Learning what Ophelia had done to insure her enclave’s survival and how it affected Orion changed El’s mind not one whit.  If anything, she’s more determined to save him; with or without his mother’s help.  But when they finally do get Orion back, he still resists El’s efforts.  Now that Orion knows what he is, he sees no option for having a normal life.  This, of course, enrages El who doubles-down on her efforts.

The whole point of this trilogy hinges on a first-year school instruction:  if you use malia you create maleficaria (mals).  (Malia = black magic.)  The good kind, mana, takes a lot more effort which, of course, explains the attractiveness of using malia.  Even the best of intentions are swept away in the ramifications of using malia.  With El’s help, the enclaves all over the world are saved but maleficaria are still out and about.  So, the final question is:  do they still need the school and should it be saved?  For El, the final question is really: how to save Orion.  Turns out, both things have the same answer. It just isn’t the happy-ever-after ending that El wanted for herself and Orion.  But it’s something.

I thoroughly enjoyed this trilogy-long story.  An amazing concept of magic combined with an intricate plot and an engaging protagonist.  This last book did feel longer as El ran all over the world, engaging with so many different people, and extending the explanation that El needed to understand everything. But this reader is satisfied.  So satisfied.  I know I’ll be rereading these again someday.  Thanks Ms. Novik.  ~~ Catherine Book

For more titles by Naomi Novik click here

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