Middle Grade Book Review: The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Title: The Iron Trial
Series: Book One of Magisterium
Authors: Holly Black, Cassandra Clare
Holly | Cassandra | Goodreads
Age Group: Middle Grade
Genre Type: Fantasy & Magic
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Pages: 295 pages
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Scholastic Press
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

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.

The Iron Trial is the first book in Holly Black and Cassandra Clare's Magisterium series. It follows young Callum as he is recruited unwilling into the Magisterium, a school of magical teaching, where he will learn much more than how to control his magic and the elements. The Iron Trials is filled with positive themes such as teamwork, uniqueness, and building friendships that are important to younger readers. Elemental magic, danger and vivid descriptions ensure it being an enjoyable read. On the downside, sluggish pace at times and familiar tropes seen in popular fantasy books may deter some reading enjoyment as similarities are distracting at times.

Other kids in Call's class were afraid of the dark, the monsters under the bed, zombies, or murderers with giant axes. Call was afraid of magicians, and he was even more afraid he was one.

Young Callum has always been afraid magic and warned constantly of its dangers by his father. Having lost his mother soon after his birth, he senses a hidden story about her death, magic and the Magiserium. Callum wants nothing to do with magic nor the school, and his sole goal is to flunk every test ensuring his failure and being kicked-out of the Magiserium before anyone realizes his true abilities. The only problem, Callum flunks at flunking. Now he is thrust into the life of an apprentice mage where he has to learn to work with others, accept what makes him unique and discover what lies behind his magic: both the danger and its exciting possibilities.

You will shape earth, air, water, and fire, bending them to your will. You will study our past as you become our future.

"Welcome to the Magisterium."

Young readers should enjoy reading about the various elemental magics and creatures that are brought vividly to life in The Iron Trial as well as the dangerous tunnels that weave below the Magisterium. Warren, an elemental lizard, and Havoc, a Chaos-ridden wolf-pup that bonds to Callum, both add to the fun and interest to the story. The danger of practicing elemental magic as well as the threat of the Chaos-ridden and mysterious Enemy of Death helps keep the level of excitement up even when the pace lags at times.

As the main character, Callum goes through a lot of growth in this story. In the beginning he has a chip on shoulder and is a loner. He suffers with a limp from an injury and is often teased by other children because of it. Angry and frustrated, he resents not being able to compete athletically at school or being challenge like other kids his age. I enjoyed seeing the positive changes he goes through at the Magisterium. From scowling and suspicious of others to gaining the ability to build friendships and learning to trust others and his abilities. As fellow apprentices and teammates, both Tamara and Aaron make a good balance to Callum, each bringing out the positive in each other.

The Iron Trial is off to a good start for the series and should capture young readers imaginations. Its stand out quality is in the positive themes as well as a hero and sidekicks that young readers, both boys and girls, can relate to and root for. The plot and pace was sluggish at times, but the delightful twist at the end kept me on edge and should ensure young readers being anxious for the next installment. Though there is similarities to other fantasy/wizardry schools, this story was unique enough for me to overlook the fact and enjoy the story for its own unique tone created through Callum's voice.