BOOK REVIEW: The Iron Trial {Magisterium # 1} by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

"Fire wants to burn, water wants to flow, air wants to rise, earth wants to bind, chaos wants to devour."

I remember spotting Holly Black and Cassandra Clare's The Iron Trial in bookstores ages ago and shying away from it because it looked like it leaned more sci-fi than fantasy, and I prefer the latter. Fast forward to December 2022, during a Kindle book sale, and I decided to revisit that decision. Being a fan of both Cassandra Clare and Holly Black, I took a leap of faith, and entered the world of the Magisterium - and I'm so glad I did. The Iron Trial is a strong intro, laying the framework for a fantastical series that, while taking place at a magical school, bears, in my personal opinion, very little resemblance to J.K. Rowling's bestselling Harry Potter series. In fact, if I'm being completely honest, the strong focus on the elements aligns Magisterium more with Avatar: The Last Airbender than Hogwarts. But perhaps that's just me...

Twelve-year-old Callum 'Call' Hunt's reputation precedes him. The singular survivor of a magical war turned massacre that killed his mother {Sarah}, and left him bearing a physical mark of the attack {a severely scarred leg and limp}; Callum has not had an easy existence. Bullied by his peers, unable to partake in sports...adolescence has been a challenge thus far - and it's about to get much more difficult with the Iron Trial.

While most youth would do anything to pass the Iron Trial, gaining them admission into a magic school known as the Magisterium, Call wants nothing more than to fail. Conditioned by his father, Alastair Hunt, since birth to believe that the Magisterium is full of dangerous magic that is the embodiment of evil, Call knows that his father refuses to allow him to enter the school; thus, failing, and failing miserably, is his only option. After all, his father is all he has, and he doesn't want to disappoint him by being successful for once in his life. But sometimes failing is easier said than done. Sometimes repressing your abilities or interests is the precise thing that will get you admitted to the one place you had zero interest in ever setting foot in. Which is how Callum finds himself enrolled in the Magisterium.

Selected to train under Master Rufus {the Magisterium's most prestigious Master} alongside Aaron Stewart and Tamara Rajavi - the former being a foster child with no recollection of magic in his bloodline; the latter being a Magisterium legacy - Callum feels out of place and confused. Aaron and Tamara both scored in the top ranks during the Trial; while Callum ranked last place, so clearly he is not on par with his teammates. That said, Aaron and Tamara are quick to point out that Master Rufus must have his reasons; and while Call does experience a bit of bullying from an arrogant classmate {ahem, Jasper deWinter} whom feels Call stole his spot under Master Rufus, he is overall accepted - physical disability and all. In time, he gets along so well at the Magisterium, that he begins to question his father's distaste for the institute, and warnings of the evil that lies within. And once he starts questioning that, he can't help but to question other things his father has warned him away from - and how much truth there actually is to all of it.

What's interesting about The Iron Trial is that it's not brilliant, but it's also not boring. The pacing is fantastic, despite the fact that Call and his training partners spend a large chunk of the first half of the book partaking in, perhaps, the most mundane form of magic in the history of magic {sorting sand}. That said, I continued on because I actually really enjoyed Call, Aaron, and Tamara - as well as many of their classmates. Call, in particular, captured my heart, because I liked his perseverance in spite of his disability. On that note, I appreciate Black and Clare's use of an MC with a disability, as it brings a sense of inclusiveness into the fantasy world that is oftentimes lacking. Of course, what is a fantasy without a fantastical beast? In this case, Havoc - a creature who presents himself at one of the most pivotal parts of the story, and will squirm his way around your heart with a single wag of his tail. Be forewarned...there is quite a bombshell dropped at the end that will leave you clamoring for book two, The Copper Gauntlet. I, for one, cannot wait to get my hands on it.

Star Rating: ****



ellie said...

Thanks for the review. With these two authors at the helm, it looks like it would be an amazing series.

Better Left Unsaid said...

Wow, Love the review. Looks like a page turner!

R's Rue said...

I love your book reviews.

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