“The Iron Trial” by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

This is one of the books that ended up in a box given to me to read. A friend of mine reads like crazy so once she’s done reading them I get a box of books to borrow. I’ve been working through this box for MONTHS, and came across this one near the bottom. I like both authors well enough so I thought, why not?

I …am indecisive. This book is either super clever in taking tropes and kind of altering them, or this book is super lame because everything in it has already been done. I still can’t decide which it is …so I’ll just get into it and let you decide for yourself.

The prologue that the book launches into hooked me right away. A man is rushing through snow and ice to get back to a cave, panicked, hoping everyone is okay, he instead walks into a massacre. He frantically searches for his wife and new-born son. Among the bodies is his wife, but no child. He continues the search and finds the baby tucked under a family member, crying, one leg horrible mangled. On the wall beside his wife is written “Kill the Child”. I was hooked. I think I was baking at the same time so I kept running back to read in 10 – 12 minute snippets.

From there it launches into the life of that man and the little boy, who is now 12. Callum Hunt, on his way to write the exam to get into the Magisterium, a magic school. I think every person’s immediate response is “Harry Potter”, but this where the “might be clever” part comes in. Call was raised knowing about magic, but he was taught it is dangerous and the Masters from the school cared nothing about them and would get them all killed. So, because he had no choice but to take the test (children with magical talents are too dangerous untrained so as soon as they develop abilities they are sent to the school), his father, Alastair, instructed him to purposely fail. Every test Call does what he can to fail, and fail he did …but not completely. The first test he failed so spectacularly he passed automatically (blew up the magical pen), the second test he failed so badly he got negative marks (but also proved he was too powerful to be left alone), and the third he was called out on because the Master realized he was purposely failing.

Callum is a 12 year old boy with messy black hair and grey eyes, and instead of a dainty lightening bolt scar, his entire leg is a mass of scar tissue. Leaving him with a permanent limp, and unable to do a lot of activities. That does make it interesting because main characters aren’t usually massively disabled. Scars are interesting and can be hidden, but Call has scar tissue, pins in his leg, and double digits worth of surgeries. Because of this, Call was always referred to as a freak, and bullied because he can’t participate. Unfortunately, this has left Call with a bad attitude and outlook on life. Whining, quitting, and just in general kind of a dick. But the book is a little self aware about that because some of the other characters call him out on being an asshole. So, it’s more purposeful, I think, and less bad writing. Because he’s never had friends or really been accepted at all, this gives him room to grow throughout the book. Which he does, so he DOES start having redeemable qualities.

Each Master chooses which students they want to teach, and they usually only have 3 – 4 students under them at a time, so it’s not guaranteed if you take the test that you will be selected. Call gets selected by the most prestigious Master, Master Rufus (the Master thing I get but it still kind of weirds me out), much to everyone’s shock. From there he learns the school is set up that each year the students get a bracelet for their grade that they can then earn charms for each achievement. Yep, it does remind me of boy scouts. The bracelets also give them access to their rooms and any places their years are allowed to go. The first years are the Iron Year, once they pass that year they head to Copper, then Bronze, Silver, and the last year being Gold. Call’s Master took on two other student, Aaron and Tamara. So yes, we have a power trio. Tamara comes from a family of magic users and is your typical Hermione. Aaron is the orphan, who kind of has an idea about magic but still relies on Tamara. So it was like they took the trio from Harry Potter and just SPUN their traits.

Their magic system is different as well. Instead of tools and spells, their magic comes through control of the elements. Iron years first have to learn how to manipulate the elements. Call and his crew spent weeks sorting sand to learn fine motor control under extreme distraction, while others learned to hover and throw fireballs. Every other year learns how to control and direct more, like instead of just moving water, using it to heal. And there are no spells or wants to yell and wave, everything comes through them naturally. So this part was interesting, but it felt like they took a page out of Lev Grossman’s Magicians when if you lose control of the elements you become one. From this point, Tamara started to remind me of Alice, who reminds me of Hermione. That smart girl trope, am I right?

With all of that out of the way, most of the book is just about Call in school, learning magic and not to be a dick. But he also, while trying to contact his father, came across a letter from his father to Master Rufus, telling him to bind Callum’s magic by the end of the year. Why? What is so different and dangerous about Call?

I haven’t decided if I want to read more of this series, but as far as a kids books go, this one isn’t bad. It’s well written, most of the kids are unlikable, but they start to grow on you once more of their personalities are revealed.

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