Monday, 24 November 2014

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare is the first in a new series of fantasy books for middle grade/younger readers (as in pre-YA). It is, in a nutshell, about twelve-year-olds going to a secret underground magic school in the US.
Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial.

Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.

All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him.

So he tries his best to do his worst - and fails at failing.

Now the Magisterium awaits him. It's a place that's both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.

The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come . . .
Because of the contemporary setting plus magic school element, comparisons to Harry Potter are inevitable. Aside from the starting age group, the fact that there is a school for magic, and the gender distribution of the three main-est characters, there's very little the two series have in common. The type of magic and the structure of the school are completely different. Instead of going to a series of different classes, the students are apprenticed to a master in small groups of five or less. That and the different type of magic make for a very different dynamic.

Black and Clare throw in some nice twists on the standard formula... which I can't go into detail about without spoiling, but they were my favourite part. My least favourite part was probably the "twelve-year-olds are stupid" aspect, but this wasn't especially prominent. However, I will say that I felt The Iron Trial was less apt to transcend it's target audience than the last middle grade book I read, which was a bit unfortunate. I listened to it as an audiobook borrowed from the library and, while I'm glad I didn't request an ARC and feel obliged to read it, I am interested in what happens next. There were some interesting things towards the end, particularly, which certainly made me want to see how it all works out. I will probably read the sequel in some form at some point.

I should also mention that the main character, Call, was injured as a baby in circumstances such that one of his legs never properly healed. Now he has a limp and his leg causes him chronic pain. I felt this was well incorporated into the narrative to show both realistic limitations and the fact that Call hated to let it stop him from doing anything. The story (so far, anyway) would have worked just as well without it, so it struck me as a nice inclusion.

The Iron Trial was a reasonable read. My dislike mainly stems from not being the target audience (I like YA, but younger books don't usually do it for me), which I knew going in. I would definitely recommend it to younger teens and pre-teens who like fantasy books (and perhaps are Harry Potter fans but have run out of those books to read).

4 / 5 stars

First published: September 2014, Scholastic (Audiobook narrated by Paul Boehmer)
Series: Magisterium book 1 of 5
Format read: Audiobook
Source: Borrowed from library

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