The Iron Trial
Holly Black & Cassandra Clare
Scholastic, 2014 295 pgs
Veteran fantasy writers Black & Clare launch the new Magisterium series with this exciting volume. The setting is present United States, but in a current reality where magic co-exists with the real world. Callum has been trained all his life by his father to dislike magic and to distrust the mages who run the Magisterium, a training school for future mages. Against his father's wishes and despite his efforts to fail, Call is excepted into the elite school and selected to apprentice with the head mage, Master Rufus. Two other appretices are also selected to work with Master Rufus, Tamara and Aaron and the trio becomes unlikely roommates, teammates and, eventually, friends. Callum surprises himself by his abilitity to work magic and slowly begins to gain acceptance at the Magisterium, while eventually it begins to feel like home. Even though he has a severe limp which slows him down, Call manages to find adventure and danger while exploring his new school. In two separate occasions he befriends magical creatures, which is against school rules. Jasper, a bully, repetitively give Call a hard time, until a plot-twist takes care of the problem. As the training continues it is discovered that Aaron possesses rare magical powers that will help the good mages win the war against the mages who work evil magic. Aaron is kidnapped and it is up to Call and Tamara to rescue him. A midst the rescue attempt Call comes face-to-face with his past, his true identity, and the real reason his father is against the Magisterium. Will Call reveal to his friends and mentors what he now knows? How will the battle play out? Stay tuned for the next installment when Call and his classmates return to the Magisteruim for year two: the copper year.
I wasn't sure how I felt about this book going into it. I love both Holly Black and Cassandra Clare and was afraid of being disappointed. Both authors generally write for a teen audience, so I was apprehensive of a middle grade fantasy, of which, I felt, the concept was done before. Happily, I was not disappointed or anywhere near bored. The parallels to Harry Potter become obvious at the on-set: an unlikely anti-hero who rises to prominence at magic school, complete with two best friends, a boy and a girl, and a bullying student who give him a hard time. This is not another Harry Potter read-alike. The Magisterium is much grittier than Hogwarts and Call is way too flawed and unpredictable than Harry. I stopped making the comparisons pretty early on as I fell into the story. The plot is fast moving, exciting, believable, and offers surprises. The action moves so quickly that the characters beyond Call are not very well developed, but readers won't care. It is a great story and the most entertaining and consuming book I have read in a while. The cover looks very scary. There are scary moments, but not as bad as the cover implies. Even though the book is plot intensive, many themes are explored, including bullying, overcoming handicaps, the importance of friendship and loyalty, and, the ever-present, good verses evil. Not an easy read, it will appeal to both boys and girls who like a "thinking", but fun book. Non-fantasy readers will like it, fantasy readers will LOVE it. I, personally, can't wait until next year when the next installment is released and we can see how Call and friends handle their copper year.