Scholomance Spoilers

So I started the last in the Scholomance series with great anticipation and hit the wall. Spoilers below and probably many more in the comments. You have been warned.


Really, a lot of spoilers.

So my biggest problem was all the explaining. And the description. And the deep thoughts. I kept thinking, “Orion is trapped with a mawmouth, and you’re describing a garden?” I think the opening up of the setting was part of the problem although it was inevitable, so I don’t think it was a wrong choice on the part of the author. Certainly keeping El and Orion apart for so long was not a help since the tension and draw between them powered the first two books (ask me how I know that keeping the power-of-the-book couple apart for too long is a bad idea). And it really undercuts that this-was-meant-to-be part of the motive when El sleeps with somebody else while she’s trying desperately to save the boyfriend. It just felt to me as though the plot was all over the place, lost in too much details about enclaves and intricate magic politics. My interest lay solely in getting Orion out of the Scholomance before Patience (Fortitude?) ate him, so all the detailed maneuvering that El was doing felt like walking through weeds.

The first two novels will always be big keepers for me. I’ve read them over and over, and I’m sure I will again. This one I’ll try again, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be skimming to get through it.

Okay. Over to you all. Knock yourselves out, but be kind to authors. None of us ever try to write a book with problems, but they happen all the time, so no “She really mailed this one in” or “She didn’t even try.” The level of detail and craft on this one is just as superb as the first two, and she deserves props for that alone. Also, authors who live in glass manuscripts shouldn’t throw stones: everything I’ve objected to here I’ve done inadvertently in my books.

48 thoughts on “Scholomance Spoilers

  1. (ask me how I know that keeping the power-of-the-book couple apart for too long is a bad idea).

    How do you know that keeping the power-of-the-book couple apart for too long is a bad idea?

      1. Hmm. . . . Maybe This Time worked for me because North was so present in Andi’s mind and in May that I feel Andi needed to work out her feelings without him around.

        It took awhile for me to realize that Ethan and Mab in Wild Ride weren’t going to end up as a couple. The real Joe came in late for me.

        I’ve pondered every other Jenny Crusie plot and can’t think of a power-of-the-book couple who were kept apart too long for my taste.

        1. Definitely Mab and Oliver in Wild Ride. There are a lot of things I’d fix in that book.

          The problem with Maybe This Time is that it’s really women’s fiction, not a romance, but I’ve got that romance brand on my professional ass, so it’s hard for long time readers to wrap their heads around. I mean, I’d feel the same way about a Dick Francis book that didn’t have a horse in it. That brand thing is a large part of the reason Nita got rejected: Nobody wants to see me come back after twelve years with a paranormal.

          1. I’m here for anything you write, and always love a paranormal, but I do recognize that I am not the norm. It’s the hardest genre to find at used book sales. Ha.

          1. It wasn’t a keeper for a lot of people. Failed romance.
            It could have been so good if I’d gotten my head out of my . . . plot.

    1. Wild Ride. Totally screwed that one up. Oliver should have been in there from the beginning, which our editor TOLD ME TO DO and I did but not enough of it.

      1. Thanks for the answer. 🙂

        I’ve got that romance brand on my professional ass…

        Bujold was branded as a Science Fiction author, until she broke into fantasy. The Spirit Ring didn’t do it, but then came the Five Gods Universe and the Sharing Knife Universe. Now she’s “semi-retired” and we get Penric and Desdemona novelettes.

        Ignore the brand. Write what you want to write. Big Publishing won’t buy it? Self-publish. That’s what Bujold has been doing. (And then Baen Books throws money at her so they can publish her stories. The latest P&D is due from them in November.)

      2. There are some quirky things I look forward to when I reread Wild Ride, like the god falling in love with his restorer; like the goddess-in-a-box; like the kookiest Crusie group of comrades ever; like Mab and Ethan as siblings rather than romantically involved. I laugh when Ethan gets the exactly right woman for him — now he has to shut up about how his life is so awful.

      3. I love Wild Ride. I would have loved to see Oliver there earlier but I enjoyed all the characters so much and the mystery of who was going to do what… and whom… next that I gave that a pass.

        I’d like to see a Mab and Oliver story now and how they deal with a remote cousin from the uncle who comes to release the spirits again… oh I would so go there!!

        1. I’m with you there. I liked Wild Ride and have reread it a couple of times. I was a bit relieved when Mab and Ethan didn’t get together. First, it would have been too easy, and second, good for Mab for not going with the screwed up hot guy. I think GI Barbie is perfect for him. More Oliver might have been good, but he wasn’t the sort of guy she noticed, so why should we?

  2. This one had the same problems as the Marion Lane and the “insert title here” series I started and then gave up on.

    Also in both cases (Marion Lane and Scholomance) I felt the protagonist ended up with the wrong person. El doesn’t end up with Orion, does she? I mean, it’s been a couple of weeks since I read it and I’ve moved on to two or three other books, but my impression was that Orion and El aren’t together at the end.

    I still love the series, but sometimes getting a satisfying ending is difficult.

    And why isn’t Orion’s mother killed dead? Wicked, wicked and heartless woman.

    1. I think they’re in a long distance/part time relationship because they have different jobs that involve a lot of travel? Or something…
      Yeah, kind of lukewarm after all that.

  3. I appreciated some of the magic politics because it would be tempting to have a simple pat solution like “get rid of the Scholomance, pull Orion out, problem solved!” without thinking through the knock-on effects of each solution and then addressing those.

    I also liked that the ending wasn’t as much of a cliffhanger/non-ending (or tragedy) as I had feared.

    I agree on the “wandering around not freaking out about Orion” part, that made it less satisfying.

  4. It’s so funny how we read books differently.

    I think El and Orion definitely end up together.

    I read all three books in one big gulp so I didn’t really notice any pacing issues in the third book.

    I liked seeing all the places and people that were only talked about in the first two books so for me the descriptions worked.

    I really liked the way the graduating class really pulled together in book 2 and 3 to challenge the toxic culture that pervaded the school and the wider wizard world.

    I’d love to see more books with other protagonists in that world. I think they are more stories to tell.

  5. Here’s what I liked about the third book:
    – El and Orion do end up together – of course they do!
    – We got to see more of El’s relationship with her mother, which I really appreciated, and the contrast to Orion’s relationship with his…mother, yes, let’s call her mother
    – El’s voice – which is oh so strong and I love it whenever I hear/read it
    – We got to see inside several enclaves, loved that especially the British one
    – Got to see why Orion is the way he is, not what I expected
    – We got to see most of our fave characters again
    – Saw El realizing she really isn’t going to turn out to be evil, despite all her fears on the subject and that she’s fundamentally a good person (heart eyes here)
    – Totally did not think Orion was going to survive – I predicted early he was going to die and then the plot seemed to be inevitably going that way and then – BE STILL MY HEART HE LIVES – what a relief – I loved that

    What I did not love:
    – She slept with someone else – twice – yeesh
    – Too long until we see her again with Orion, I’m with you there, Jenny
    – Not enough snark

    So this one is probably a skim a few parts but not a serious reread book for me – and I still greatly appreciate Naomi Novik and wonder what she is doing next…

    1. Oh, if she wrote another Scholomance book, I’d be there. She’s great.
      I think on this one she got trapped in the world she’d built. I’ve been there, so again, glass manuscripts.

  6. Wow! Haven’t read it and probably won’t, now! I don’t re-read New Moon in the Twilight series because of all the psychological stuff and thinking/rethinking going on there. Nora Roberts has sometimes put too much of that in her books. Can’t think of an example, right now, because I probably took them to the resale place. I skip the psychological explanations in Bet Me when I re-read, now. That character is not very lovable, and she believes her own interpretation of love too much. The book is still great, I just know when to skip ahead. We all probably have parts of books that we skip. And movies. Thank goodness for DVDs and the forward button! Doing that with tapes was a real headache. It’s hard when something we love does not meet expectations. That seems to be the state of life right now. I feel your pain.

    1. Also, this post arrived early this morning the way they are supposed to. So thanks for fixing it, or thanks to the Universe for righting itself, for now.

  7. Spoilers. I’ ve read it twice now and will probably do another in a month or two. On the second read most of the things that I had trouble with disappeared. Once I started with the knowledge that Orion was the mawmouth, it switched how I reacted to every scene, and also knowing that El did not know this. She starts out with the knowledge that her rescue attempt failed, the mawmouth got Orion and basically he is dead. And she knows this because when she grabbed him she could feel the mawmouth around her hand. Even after Gwen tells her that the problem with Orion was that he was just hunger, El doesn’t realize the mawmouth she had in her hand was Orion. On my first reading I just wanted her to get on with saving Orion. Second reading I started picking up on all the things she had to discover to save Orion. And I didn’t have problems with her other relationship because she is only 18 and Orion is dead at that time and she is reacting to major disaster. She wants to get back to him to end his suffering not because she can save him. And once she gets him back there is this horribleness about him that she thinks is trauma but is the fact that he is a mawmouth.

    Every step of the way is bringing El to the realization of what she is doing with saving enclaves, destroying enclaves and destroying mawmouths. I see the ending as El and Orion together but each has separate lives, except for summer breaks because Orion will be guarding the school and El will be ridding the world of maw mouths. Like they love one another but are going to different colleges. They are both doing what they want for the most part. They are a long way from reaching their adult destinies. There is a way to go before El can have a full time relationship with Orion. I don’t see the pavilion in the gym being turned into a rose covered cottage. It is a mature ending. It is not the fairy tale ending.

    1. I read the book the same way and I agree with just about everything you said. I thought it was a good book. It’s really interesting how so many people have read it so differently in so many different ways. More later.

    2. Thank you, Jessie, you covered all the points I had. No problem with sex with Liesl (El certainly doesn’t and won’t love her!) and Orion turned out as well as he could, based on Mommy Dearest.

  8. Haven’t read the books in question so I can’t comment on them.

    On Maybe This Time – how is that not a romance? For me it will always be a modern gothic romance.

    It is one of my favorite books in the entire world.

    1. People read romance to see the leads together, to watch the relationship evolve.
      I don’t think I’d change MTT; I like it a lot. But the book focuses on Andie’s relationship with Alice, not North. And for a lot of people, that was a disappointment. It’s that brand thing again.

      1. I just downloaded ‘Maybe This Time’ again so I can read it afresh – it’s been a while. I remember liking it very much. Right-now brain is remembering that the two adults whose love story it is were also very much invested in the safety of those kids, and the kids’ need was bigger and more immediate than their relationship issues.

        In the hands of an average everyday romance writer, all the kid stuff would have been played for consequence-free laughs or hijinks with no purpose other than to throw Andie & North together to rekindle their romance. We’ve all read *that* book about a hundred times. 🙂

      2. I remember it being jarring the first time I read Maybe This Time. Like taking a drink of water and finding out it was milk. Not bad, just unexpected. It’s one of my favorites and perpetual rereads now.

        1. It’s that expectation thing. You’ve got to set that up in the beginning and then pay it off.
          People who’d never read me before seemed to like it better than long time readers.

          1. I guess I knew what I was getting because we had talked so much about gothics and structure of gothics on this blog as you were writing MTT. I was expecting kids at risk to be a major factor.

            I personally have always liked your books with kids in them. In Tell Me Lies I love CL’s relationship with Em. In Bet Me the relationship between Minnie & Cal’s nephew was priceless. In WTT Sophie’s relationship with Dilly was perfect.

          2. Okay, I read MTT again, and I’m squarely in the ‘it’s a romance’ camp. That first scene? Where they see each other again after ten years and it causes a disturbance in the force and – as in the first-date scene in ‘Boyfriend Material’ when you read it the second time – we can so clearly imagine what’s churning under North’s repression as he faces this woman he so clearly adores? OH MY HEART.

            They aren’t in the same room together again till 60% of the way through, but they’re still very present in each other’s minds. They’re both thinking and talking and fantasizing about each other. Remembering and missing and wishing. It’s a bit like a wartime romance: they are separated by something unavoidable and fearsome, something that will change them.

            And to my mind, Andie’s somewhat-unwilling involvement with the kids (especially Alice; she *is* a bit blind to Carter until Lydia says something) changes her. She has been a commitment-phobic short-term thinker, and when her commitment to Alice really kicks in, she’s suddenly forced to look at the future in terms of ‘unto adulthood.’ Ten years, minimum. Once she accepts that, with all the grief & trauma the kids will be processing, she can accept that grown-up love sometimes means painful compromises AND that it means not putting down the shovel until you’ve finished digging the well.

            Meanwhile North comes to understand that being loving and supportive only means something if you are also *involved.* Which he probably wouldn’t have achieved without witnessing the Andie-kids connection. They learn to really see and hear each other because they are now allies.

            Thank you for prompting me to re-read that book. <3

  9. Ok just a quick thought because I’m in the middle of something else, but I think this is a coming of age series, not a romance series. So one can’t analyze it in the same way as one would a romance novel, right? It’s more about El (and others) coming into their own.

    1. I agree that it’s coming of age.
      But the first book ended with “Stay away from Orion” and the last book ended with him telling her he loved her and shoving her out the door. That means that people came back to this book to get the final Orion/El ending, not to find out about a bunch of enclaves.
      We just went through this with the three Liz books. They all end with Liz not sure about staying in town but sure about Vince until the end when she decides to stay because she wants to, and because Vince is there. But we were conscious all the way through that they had to be together a lot, that the plot had to throw them together so the relationship would arc, too.
      The El/Orion relationship arced beautifully in the first two books, and in the third, her goal at the beginning is just to get in there and save him. And then she takes a tour of the enclaves and has a fling with an old rival, which is when I flipped to the end because I wanted the story I’d been promised by the ends of the first two. BUT I am going to go back and try it a third time.
      It’s probably just me. I started the next Time Police book and couldn’t stick with it. I think I’m just burned out.

      1. Reread Golden Enclaves and liked it even more the second time around. Agree with you Jenny that I would’ve liked to see Orion show up sooner and be around more, just because I like him and the two of them together. And I see your point about the expectations set up by the last book. But I understood why it didn’t happen. This is definitely El’s coming of age novel and not El and Orion’s romance novel. El is smart enough to understand that they’re kind of young to be together forever and that there is a lot of world and life to see and experience first. She says that several times; she’s never even had a chance to date another person. (As an aside, the fact that she slept with Liesl didn’t bother me under the circumstances; she thinks Orion is dead and she’s looking for a way to break herself out of her despair and negative thoughts). Nonetheless, she and Orion are clearly together at the end of the book and it seems like the Scholomance will be the home base from where she sets out on her mal killing expeditions. And Orion will join her during the summer hols. I’m fine with it. BTW, I think the end of the book leaves room for another book or two, and I am hoping for more!

  10. The book worked for me, I think because it was about saving the wizarding world, not just about saving themselves. I like fantasy a lot more when it has a political side to it. In fact, thinking about it, that’s part of what I read fantasy for.

    And I loved how enclaves were built on maw mouths and the deliberate blindness everyone showed to the evil underlying their lovely safe existences.

  11. I must be the only one who didn’t care at all that El slept with someone else. Twice. I barely even noticed, I was too wrapped up in reading as fast as I could because I had to go to sleep to go to work in the morning. Liesl’s motivation for sleeping with El was clear enough and El was a hot mess emotionally, so it didn’t really trouble me. I think of the romance as pretty secondary to these books, and the main thrust is El bringing down the system and fulfilling her great grandmother’s prophecy in the best possible way.

    The maw mouth origin scene haunted me, it was so evil. I enjoyed the grayness of other characters like the guy from Shanghai enclave, and her great-grandmother, and the way they could still ultimately join the fight for good despite being far less morally pure than El. And I enjoyed the willingness of those who had stood with El in school to do so again, despite pressure from the existing structure. Agree there was a bit too much skim-over material, but I’ll take it. I do wonder why, if El was always destined to be the golden child, all her Scholomance assignments turned towards evil (like her magic mirror). On the other hand, I suppose for the spells she puts them all to good use. Maybe her mirror would have told her that she had that prophecy all wrong.

    The Orion reveal was amazing, but to me it brought out not just the evil of his mother but also his father. How could he go along with that? Did he know? And that leads me to my biggest unanswered question–if she has to stay away from New York, does that mean New York gets to stick around? Or will she destroy the mawmouths and then it just falls and there’s no one to rebuild it? Is New York just toast?

    Either way it was very satisfying to enter a world where there is actually a good alternative solution to the evil system, and enough people believe in it that it actually happens. Now I guess they just need everyone to stop using malia, and then there will be no more mals. If only.

    1. I thought the Orion stuff was brilliant.
      But he was also her doppelgänger. Because of his nightmare of a mother, he was a monster even though he was born good. Because of her angel of a mother, she wasn’t, even though she was (technically) born evil. I think the balance of those two characters, the two of them continuing to work out their partnership if not a romantic relationship, was the key to the whole story.
      I think El’s lack of vulnerability was a problem, too. Her Kryptonite was Orion, and he was missing for most of the book.
      But again, I wrote Wild Ride, so I can’t really throw stones.

    2. I didn’t mind her sleeping with Liesl either. Her motivations were clear. She was hurting so much and it made her hurt a little less. It didn’t diminish her love for Orion. She thought he was dead.

      Also, I really liked how Liesl’s character developped in book 2 & 3. She was so smart. I like super smart characters. They are vicarious fun.

    3. I started to read the third book cold and got lost in the weeds. I NEEDED El and Orion to be together much faster. By 20 pages in, I gave up and went back to the first book in the series. Rereading books 1 and 2 (again) right before launching into book 3 was SO satisfying! Seriously.

      And yeah, when I finished book 3, I flipped back to the beginning and immediately reread it. It improves upon rereading, and isn’t really a stand-alone book.

  12. I really enjoyed the book and felt like keeping them apart made a lot more space for El’s growth into the kind of person who could lean on a community of people (many that that she didn’t trust) in order to save the boy who was both someone she loved and also a thing that she has a deep and visceral (and inherited) horror of. I was expecting the human revisor explanation from the second book to have more of an impact on the final part of the book

    The two times El sleeps with Liesel, it’s both a lot more about Orion than about Liesel (which is a shame for Liesel but she seems to understand the emotional stakes and is willing to accept them).
    At the first El is convinced that Orion is both dead and suffering (having been consumed by a Maw Mouth) and there is nothing she can do for him beyond kill him as soon as she can get to him and the sex is mostly about comfort and human connection in the middle of despair.
    The second time she desperately needs to ask Liesel for advice but that would mean admitting that Orion *is* a Maw Mouth to another human being and she feels like she can’t do that, the sex there is very much about making herself vulnerable enough to tell Liesel the truth (unfortunately this is where we run up against Liesel’s limit for problem solving).
    I’ve had kind of a fascination with Liesel and her cruel/kind pragmatism since the second book so the third one was a good outing for me (I loved the parallel between her and El and their parents and sacrifice).
    I think it’s entirely possible that Liesel will be running the entire magical infrastructure within 20 years.

      1. I do like the Liesel seems to bend towards doing the right thing (and usually has some entirely pragmatic reason for doing it). I would love a Liesel novella

  13. I think it some ways it really was perfect for how the second book set it up. In other ways it just seemed too neat? I almost wanted it be a reversal, where she does end up going full villain, since I felt that was where a lot of good tension came from earlier in the story.

    It didn’t bother me as much that she slept with someone else since she thinks he’s dead and then he’s kind of not present? Like it’s almost like he’s still dead even though he’s not. I think that’s probably one of the ways it felt flatter – that he’s sort of there/not-there for so much of it and I spent most of it expecting him to die. I also wanted more explanation of the logistics about the ending.

    Overall, I think the worldbuilding was less dark than the first book seemed to be setting up, which is fine as a whole, but I also would have liked a “the world is awful, but I’m angry and fighting” version,too. Although that is sort of what they are, but I think one of the things that made it too neat was that there was a solution to the too many mals problem – that the fact that it was a human-made problem and not just a state of the world made it less engaging, somehow. I think I also missed the structure of the school setting.

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