Review: The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Release date: September 9th, 2014
Series: Yes, #1 in the Magisterium series
Source: ARC from BEA14
Rating: A fun middle grade with a great twist and characters, though a sagging middle and derivative aspects try to ruin the party.
From NEW YORK TIMES bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare comes a riveting new series that defies what you think you know about the world of magic.
From two bestselling superstars, a dazzling and magical middle-grade collaboration centering on the students of the Magisterium, an academy for those with a propensity toward magic. In this first book, a new student comes to the Magisterium against his will -- is it because he is destined to be a powerful magician, or is the truth more twisted than that? It's a journey that will thrill you, surprise you, and make you wonder about the clear-cut distinction usually made between good and evil.
I'm not sure what I was expecting from this book, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised by how much I did enjoy this. It's not without its flaws (pacing and deriviate aspects, mostly), but overall, reading The Iron Trial was a positive reading experience, and the whopper of a twist at the end makes me excited for the books to come.
I liked: the characters. That's what pushed this book into the "win" category for me, because I honestly did bond to these kids, particularly Call. He is weird, slightly crazy, and used to being the oddball. He has a strange, lonely father and a limp from a childhood accident that shattered his leg. He's never succeeded in his life, and when his father INSISTS he fails the tests that would get him into the Magisterium--aka the school for mages his father has been warning him about his whole life--well, Call fails. That's right. He fails at failing, and so he's sent to magic school, aka the place his former-mage father has told him repeatedly is the worst place ever and will probably kill him.
So Call goes to the Magisterium as the worst student basically in the whole school. The
I didn't like: The pacing. The beginning reads super fast, and the ending is like AAAAAH! But in the middle? Hoooo, boy. There are also some very inelegant info-dumps, though I liked the info getting dumped. It never gets boring, exactly, but there is definitely no forward momentum as Call, Tamara, and Aaron are forced my Master Rufus to... wait for it... sort sand. For a month. I'm sure there was some necessary magical lesson in there but that was hella boring. Except for this part hat made me guffaw, after they spend five hours painstakingly sorting grains of sand with their magic and then Call accidentally explodes the sand piles:
"I'm going to kill you," Tamara said very calmly. "I am going to sort your guts into piles."
I don't know what's wrong with me, but I laughed for about ten minutes. Tamara, for all her Hermione-ness (which I'll get to) was totally the highlight. But yes, the middle section tooootally dragged, and only the fact that I DESPERATELY WANTED TO KNOW WHAT THE HECK WAS HAPPENING kept me moving forward. Because something is totally UP here and it was killling me. We still didn't get all the answers I would have liked, and I think the worldbuilding was vaguely shakey and a bit underdeveloped, but the twist! The tweeeeeeeest was the best, and I shall squee about it about I address the hippogriff in the room, and it starts with a Harry and ends with a Potter.
Black and Clare, with their Beeeeg Tweeeest, totally managed to put a spin on this "typical hero's journey", which I know was their intent because the ARC came with a lovely letter on the front telling me so. But in strange ways, it felt like like they went out of their way to both be different from HP and the same. The magic is clearly VERY different, based on the elements and a rawer sort of power (chaos wants to devour is damn creepy, yo), and I appreciated that. And yes, the similarities in Call's and Harry's situations are definitely common tropes, but... well, did he half to have untidy black hair?
Then there's the villain, who is called the Enemy of Death and whose motivations adhere pretty close to You Know Who's. Then there's Call's mom, who died tragically and violently at the hands of the Enemy when call was a wee black-haired babe, and know-it-all Tamara (though I do love some know-it-all girls, she serves the same sort of purpose as Hermione in the early books, namely the human info-dump). Then there's the fact that there's so much magic in the Magisterium that it interferes with human technology. Again, HP didn't INVENT all these things, but side by side... well, you can't help but notice it.
Then there's Call, Tamara, and Aaron, who, again, I really liked as a cute little threesome of eventual friendship. But they definitely call back to Harry, Ron, and Hermione--not always in identical ways, since Aaron could be argued to be the more Harry-ish figure and Call is kind of his own unique doom-laden weirdo, but still. BUT THEN THE TWIST YAY TWIST
I love the twist, though. Lovelovelove. It adds a lot of complexity, and I'm not sure if I should have seen it coming, but I didn't, and it makes everything sooo much more interesting. Super curious about the trajectory of this series now, and I honestly didn't expect to be. I thought this was a pretty fun MG read--not outstanding, but definitely one I could see myself keeping up with.