Author: Holly Black

ISBN: 9780545522250
Pages: 295
Description: Callum Hunt does not want to be a magician. All his life, his father has warned him about the dangers of magic, and the sinister ways of the mages who teach youngsters to use their powers in the underground world of the Magisterium. When Callum comes of age and must take his entrance exam for the Magisterium, he tries his hardest to fail. But he fails to fail. He is chosen to train with Master Rufus, the most prestigious mage in the Magisterium. Callum (Call) is ripped away from his normal life in Carolina, separated from his father, and plunged into a subterranean world his father has said would be worse than death.

The Iron Trial is a hugely fun, inventive spin on the middle grade fantasy novel. Yes, the parallels to Harry Potter are obvious, but as I see it that’s sort of the point. Clare and Black take those patterns and expectations and deliberately turn them upside-down. Callum doesn’t want to be a magician. He wants to fail at magic. His experience is not like Hogwarts. It’s alternately boring (sorting piles of sand, anyone?) and terrifying (the elementals are awesome creations), and Call can’t be sure who to trust – even his parents. His mother’s dying words: Kill the Child, apparently meaning her own infant son. And his father . . . has he been protecting Call all these years, or lying to him? Is Master Rufus a friend or enemy? Will Callum ever be allowed to leave his new home?

I liked Call a lot. His leg was badly broken when he was a baby, and his trouble walking informs his character. It’s especially poignant when he wonders if he can learn to fly as a magician, thus making him more mobile. He is mistrustful but empathetic, capable and yet deeply flawed. I also liked the cast of supporting characters. His fellow apprentices are great, especially Tamara. The magic system is inventive and logical. The world-building is fantastic. The Iron Trial sets up the game board for the rest of the series, which promises to be great – and after that huge, massive twist at the end (no spoilers, but oh boy!) how can you not want to read on?

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