The last thing El Higgins saw before Orion pushed her through the gates of the Scholomance was the massive maw-mouth monster called Patience rolling towards him. With only moments until a super-volcano spell goes off and destroys the school, El doesn't understand why Orion didn't throw himself through the gate as well. After all, a maw-mouth is a fate worse than death, but El's determined to find Patience and destroy it to set Orion's soul free. Of course that assumes she can even find what's left of the school in the void, but in the meantime she's back at the commune in Wales with her mum. When she allowed herself to imagine a future after graduation, she dreamed of using the Golden Stone Sutras spell book she found in the Scholomance to build small enclaves to protect others. Instead she finds herself fighting to save the big enclaves as almost every day another one of them is attacked.
It was hard to imagine what this third book would be like without the Scholomance and as expected there is a slightly different tone. The first two were a snarky coming of age story with worldbuilding that combined elements of H.P. Lovecraft and J.K. Rowling. Since El is no longer in the school, the cast of characters is much smaller and there is a dramatic reduction in the snark, although there is still plenty of sarcasm to be had. You wouldn't think the mood could get darker than teenagers who faced death around every corner but the attacks on the enclaves reveal a dark secret known to very few. Those in power try the oldest justification known to mankind, "the end justifies the means". El disagrees, so just when she had finally convinced herself that her grandmother's prophetic vision was bullshit she's seriously tempted to fulfill it while the enclaves are begging her to save them. The quest to save Orion's Soul seemed almost impossible when El simply had to find a dying Scholomance somewhere in the infinite void and destroy the biggest maw-mouth of them all. Then El meets his mother and realizes it will be even trickier than she thought.
Novik displays the talents of master storyteller as she connects details large and small from the first two books and assembles everything into the big picture while never slowing down the action. Details that seemed to be there for flavor turn out to be important pieces of a puzzle that completely changes our perspective on who El and Orion are and what roles they are destined to play in the future of wizards. Not that I really expected El to spend her life selflessly building Golden Enclaves for everyone, so in my opinion this was a near perfect conclusion to a fabulous trilogy.