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The Iron Trial

Review

The Iron Trial

Good friends and fellow fantasy authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare team up in the first volume of the Magisterium series, THE IRON TRIAL.
 
The opening scene of THE IRON TRIAL is the kind of thing that sticks with you. A lone mage uses magic to climb a treacherous, ice-covered mountain, desperate to get to a certain cave, although he fears what he might find when he gets there. Unfortunately, what he discovers is even worse than what he'd imagined --- and although he's initially thrilled to discover his infant son alive, he is soon both confused and terrified by a message he discovers as well.
 
It's kind of a big deal when two fantasy authors as popular as Holly Black and Cassandra Clare team up to launch a new series. And despite these high expectations, THE IRON TRIAL does not disappoint. 
 
The story then immediately flashes forward 12 years later --- Callum (Call), whom we soon learn is that infant boy, has been summoned to take the entrance exam to the mage school known as the Magisterium. But Call's dad, who has turned his back on magic, is desperate for Call not to be accepted at the school, even if his reasons are somewhat unclear --- he attended the school himself, after all!
 
Thanks to his father's stories and warnings, though, Call is determined to flunk the exam. But despite his best efforts, he finds himself chosen for the Magisterium --- as an exclusive apprentice to the most esteemed mage, to boot --- and questioning why and how he has been chosen for this dubious honor.
 
Call's fellow apprentices are Aaron and Tamara, who seem on paper to be much more suitable students than Call himself but who, it turns out, hide their own secrets. As the three students fumble their way through Master Rufus's peculiar challenges, they become friends and discover more than a few surprises about each other and about themselves. All along, readers will have that opening scene in the back of their mind, wondering what the cryptic message for Callum's father really means --- and how it will affect Call's time at the Magisterium.
 
It's kind of a big deal when two fantasy authors as popular as Holly Black and Cassandra Clare team up to launch a new series. And despite these high expectations, THE IRON TRIAL does not disappoint. Unlike a lot of team-written books, it's pretty much impossible to tell which author was responsible for which bits (although readers will likely have a lot of fun guessing), and the two authors' styles and fantasy-writing experience seem to complement each other well.
 
There's already been a lot written about the similarities between THE IRON TRIAL and a certain other series about a wizarding school. And it's true there are some similarities --- but it's also true that J. K. Rowling was not the first to write about a magical education, and she certainly won't be the last. THE IRON TRIAL also has a markedly different tone from the Harry Potter books, with its own vividly realized mythology and setting. There's also a doozy of a twist at the end, one that will leave readers anxiously awaiting the next book in the Magisterium series.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 12, 2014

The Iron Trial
(Magisterium #1)
by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare