The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Two masters of the fantasy genre come together to create a strong new series for middle graders. Call was raised by his father to fear the Magisterium and magic itself. When he accidentally split the sidewalk wide open with his powers as a child, his father was not pleased. So when Call is required to go through testing for entering the Magisterium, he makes a plan to fail. But the tests are not what he expected at all and soon he is entering the dreaded Magisterium, a place where he believes people are imprisoned against their will and killed for the sake of magic. As Call joins the students, he finds himself making friends for the first time in his life. But all is not what it seems, even for the nightmares that Call has thought up. It is the ultimate battle of good and evil, but not in the way you’d ever expect.
Black and Clare play with similarities with the Harry Potter series, since theirs is also set in a school for magic. But the magic here is different, as is the school itself. Call too is no Harry, being a prickly and unusual protagonist who is at times quite nicely unlikeable. This book is also set during a magical war, one that is actively being waged. There are tests that are literally as dull as dirt, others that have the students battling elementals, and then there is a student who tries to escape the school.
Black and Clare have great pacing throughout the book. They have also created a very strong setting with the book, the school has a feeling of eternity about it, though we also know that Call is somehow very special. It is that specialness that makes the book’s twists work so well. They are completely surprising, shocking even. In a genre like this where readers will come to it with a certain jadedness, it is great to read a book with that kind of zapping electrical charge.
Fans of Harry Potter will enjoy both the differences and similarities here, though readers of Percy Jackson will also find themselves right at home. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Scholastic and NetGalley.