Review | The Iron Trial - Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

Series: Magisterium #1 
Publisher: Doubleday
Release Date: September 11, 2014
Page count: 320
Genre: Fantasy 
Age bracket: Middle Grade
Source: Purchased paperback

The Iron Trial is just the beginning. The biggest test is yet to come...

All his life, Callum Hunt has been different. Having suffered numerous surgeries on his leg from an early age, Callum is left with a severe walking impairment and, due to this, is segregated and thought of as an easy target for bullying at school. 
After a schoolyard fight that knocks Callum unconscious and causes him to let loose a power that cracks the ground with its force, he discovers that he has inherited magic; his father is a mage - as was his mother who perished in the Cold Massacre when Callum was just a baby. 
From the day he learns of his powers, Callum's father warns him away from magic and insists that magic, and the mages who wield it, are never to be trusted. 
When the time comes for Callum to take the Iron Trial - a test that, if passed, may grant acceptance into the Magisterium, a school where magic is taught- he knows that he must do all he can to fail. However, Call fails at failing and is chosen as an apprentice to one of the most sought-after Mages. Now, a year at the Magisterium awaits...

 ~ • ~

I'm torn. So, so torn. I don't recall a middle grade book ever giving me such mixed feelings.
I have both positive and negative thoughts, so let's get the negative out of the way so we can end on a good note.

In my humble opinion, this book is nothing new, nothing excitingly unique - I wouldn't recommend you run out and buy it. To me, it's just OKAY. That being said, I'm 22 years old: I'm at least 10 years outside of the demographic this book is aimed at. Is that the problem with me not loving this book, though? Honestly, no, I don't think it is; I'm still a big kid with a serious love of fantasy and magic and all things weird and wonderful.

I'm of that age group where, during my childhood, one series of books in particular was my bible: Harry Potter. I grew up with Harry Potter. I read those books cover to cover countless times; and then, when the films came out, I watched them religiously. 
I can still sniff a Harry Potter similarity out a mile off
Reading The Iron Trial, I could not for the life of me stop seeing similarities. They're not just similarities, they're extremely uncanny similarities; it feels like this book is a rehashing of the fantasy books I've loved over the years, made more modern and Americanised. 
Even in the back-of-the-book author interview, Cassie and Holly state Harry Potter as being an influence. Yeah. Yes, that's pretty obvious. Even the big twist that admittedly took me by surprise had a Harry Potter-esque feel. The plot didn't feel like its own.

I'm not going to go into detail on what exact similarities I had problems with; if you want to pick this book up, you can see for yourself if you can spot them and if you have issues with them, too. 
Maybe it's just me who feels this way, maybe it's not, but I hate to see authors who have so much more potential and skill than this not trying to bring much of anything new to the table and merely looking like they're attempting to ride off the coattails of the books that have been explosively successful within the genre.
The writing, while aimed at children, felt overly childish and mediocre, and didn't make for a great reading experience for me. And, to be honest, I'm super disappointed that I didn't love it, because I'm a fan of both Cassandra and Holly when it comes to their previous work.

 But now, onto the good.

This book shows Call, even with a terrible ailment, pushing himself to overcome what holds him down; he doesn't let his damaged leg keep him back from helping when his friends are in need. It shows Call finding what he's good at and finding his own rightful place amongst his peers. Maybe he can't participate in sports but he is good at magic; maybe he was bullied and excluded before, but now he's found his own group of friends, he has his own niche, and has found somewhere he belongs. I feel like this is a great message to send out to young readers: you can overcome adversity if you push through, and, at the end of it all, you will always find somewhere you belong and are accepted.

The magic was interesting, too, I must say. Mages draw their magic from the five elements: Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and, very rarely, Chaos. Each of these elements has a counterweight - an opposite element that counteracts it. If these elements are drawn on too heavily, they can take over the mage which results in the element and the mage becoming one. I thought the magic system was quite a different take from what I have read before.

While this wasn't the book for me, I can definitely see the appeal it could hold for the right reader. There's magic and monsters; there's mystery and suspense. I feel like, even from its faults, The Iron Trial could set the rest of the Magisterium series up for something better and could very well go on to being something big in its own right.

Fire wants to burn. Water wants to flow. Air wants to rise. Earth wants to bind. Chaos wants to devour.


  1. I've been having a similar problem. One of the books I recently read is suspiciously similar to a certain BBC show. Even from this blurb I can see the similarities. Magisterium = Hogwarts DUH

    I don't often read middle grade, even though I guess I'm close to the target age range. Though I don't remember ever reading very much of it. I like to read prose that I can devour like a good piece of cheesecake, and so middle grade writing just sounds too simplistic.

    Sorry this one didn't work for you. Great review though. Especially the Harry Potter sniffing.

    1. Ohh, what book was it that you were reading?
      Even though the blurb up on Goodreads and the reviews screamed HP, I thought I'd try reading it with an open mind anyway .. but there's really no ignoring the comparisons when they're right there.

      I enjoyed middle grade at the time, but I don't go out of my way to read much of it now either; I can't even remember what the last MG book I read was before this one. I think when you're into writing that's more mature, it's hard to go back to books that, like you said, are just too simplistic and don't have as much substance to them.

      Heh, that felt like the perfect gif to use ;)


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