Book: The Iron Trial (Book One of Magisterium)
Authors: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Age Range: 8-12
I moved The Iron Trial up on my to be read list after Tanita read it and loved it, having in turn been inspired by Charlotte. Tanita even said "that this series has the potential to be the American Harry Potter". So ok, clearly it was worth a look (and it was already right there on what I'll call my "to actually be read shelf", in contrast to the larger set of shelves which are more like "to be read if time somehow becomes infinite.").
Anyway, The Iron Trial is the first book in the new Magisterium series, the first collaboration between friends Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. I adored (though somehow did not review) Black's Newbury Honor-winning Doll Bones, and have also enjoyed Clare's Mortal Instruments books (of which I've read several but not all).
The Iron Trial is about a boy named Callum (called Call). When Call was an infant, his mother, along with a slew of others from the magical community, was killed as part of a war with a powerful mage called The Enemy. Call was the lone survivor of the massacre, left with a badly damaged leg and a father who no longer wanted anything to do with magic. When Call turns 12, however, his father is required to take him to the Iron Trial, a test to see if Call will be admitted to The Magisterium, a school where young mages are trained. Despite Call's best efforts to fail, he is admitted to the school. There he makes friends, and learns things about both magic and himself.
The Iron Trial is a book that keeps the reader guessing, as most things are not what they initially seem. The plotting is strong and suspenseful, and the ending is ... fabulous. Which is all I'll say about that. The tone is atmospheric without being overly gloomy. The Magisterium is set in a series of mysterious caves, filled with delightful details, such as food that looks like lichen and moss but tastes wonderful. There are boats that navigate underwater rivers, and dangerous creatures called elementals. It's a unique and interesting setting. I can already picture the movie (a little bit). The magic itself has logical rules, and requires hard (and sometimes tedious) work.
Call is a sympathetic character, one who grew up lonely and picked on, at least in part because of his disability (his leg). He is a bit of a troublemaker:
"Callum Hunt was a legend in his little North Carolina town, but not in a good way. Famous for driving off substitute teachers with sarcastic remarks, he also specialized in annoying principals, hall monitors, and lunch ladies. Guidance counselors, who always started out wanting to help him (the poor boy's mother had died, after all) wound up hoping he'd never darken the doors of their offices again." (Page 6)
Call's relationship with his two team members (the only three students from their year with a particular teacher) develops slowly and reasonably plausibly (downright prickly at first). There is some diversity among the students, though this is not a major focus. Call's limitations from the problem with his leg are addressed, and not glossed over. The authors do include some humor, too. For instance, when Call finally receives his clothes from home (he didn't expect to be admitted, so hadn't brought them), we have:
"After so long with only the two uniforms, it was awesome to have a bunch of clothes to choose from. Part of him wanted to put them all on at once and waddle through the Magisterium like a penguin." (Page 132)
Suspenseful plot, brooding atmosphere, unique setting, intermittent humor, and sympathetic characters. The Iron Trial has it all. This is an excellent choice for middle grade fans of fantasy, or anyone else who enjoys well-written, original reads. Highly recommended. I look forward to future books.
Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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