Review – The Iron Trial

The Iron Trial (Magisterium No.1) – Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Doubleday, 2014

Some children dream of being chosen for magic school, but Callum Hunt knows better. A war between magicians killed his mother and drove his father into a life of deliberate isolation. When the magicians come for him, Call knows what he has to do: fail the test and convince them to let him go home. But that’s not so easy as he thought – and the truth about magic is not nearly as simple. The war is not over. And Call is a part of it, whether he likes that or not.

The Iron Trial is in the magic school sub-genre of children’s fantasy and so will inevitably draw parallels with J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series, especially as it centres on another trio of two boys and one girl. It’s obvious this is intentional, because by employing similar tropes Black and Clare quietly invert expectations. Callum is spiky, suspicious and, unusually for the hero of an adventure novel, physically disabled. While it is deeply significant to Call’s character, his disability is not played as tragic backstory or a problem to be solved. His friends Tamara and Aaron are well-rounded and have promising story arcs of their own. The underground setting never really engaged me and I would have liked more focus on the mechanics of magic lessons, but this book offers an interesting twist on a familiar genre and its world has a lot of potential. The next installment, The Copper Gauntlet, comes out later this year.

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