Book review

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (2014)

Book one in the Magisterium series

You’d think it would be the easiest thing in the world to deliberately fail an exam wouldn’t you?

That’s what Callum is planning to do. He’s up for Magic School – that’s the Magisterium to you and me – but his Dad has always told him that magic is dangerous and only a fool would play with fire:

That’s why your mother died. Because of magic, said Call’s dad’s voice in his head.

So Call sets himself up for failure:

‘This is a test of your ability to control your magic. You will be using the element of air. Concentrate on the paper in front of you until you are able to lift it off the desk, using only the energy of your thoughts. Lift it straight up, without allowing it to wobble or fall. Once that is accomplished, please rise and join me at the front of the room.’
Relief washed through Call. All he had to do was make sure the paper didn’t fly up into the air, which seemed simple enough. His whole life, he had managed not to make pieces of paper fly around classrooms.

Call pours all his savage thoughts into willing the paper to stay put on the desk. He pictures himself holding it down against the wood, fingers splayed, preventing it from twitching.

They were all looking at Call. Master Rockmaple stalked over to him and stared down at the paper. It had well and truly become fused to the desk.
‘Who did this?’ demanded Maste Rockmaple. He sounded flabbergasted. ‘Is this someone’s idea of a prank?’
Everyone in the class was silent.
‘Did you do this?’ Master Rockmaple asked Call.
I was just trying to keep it from moving, Call thought miserably, but he couldn’t say that. ‘I don’t know.’
‘You don’t know?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe the paper is defective.’
‘It’s just paper!’ the mage shouted, and then seemed to get control of himself.

Well, everything gets a bit wild after that. Callum is picked to be apprentice to Master Rufus. Call’s dad has some serious objections, but is overruled:

Call felt arms grabbing at him as two mages wrenched him out of his dad’s grip. His father was shouting and Call was kicking and pulling, but it didn’t make a difference as he was dragged over to where Aaron and Tamara stood. They both looked absolutely horrified.

They’re going to be his new best friends, Aaron and Tamara. They’ve got a lot to get through this year. They need to learn how to control their own magic power to pass the Iron Trial. They must learn to navigate their way through the endless tunnels under the mountain that make up the Magisterium. They’ll learn to work as a team and trust each other absolutely. And they will need that level of trust because it’s actually going to be a dangerous year. There’s a lot of back history to Callum, and Aaron and Tamara although they don’t quite know it yet. And if you want to find out about that you’ll have to read the book.

Brilliant read! See if Call can work out who he really is.

What can I read next?

It’s a series. Read them in order:

  • The Iron Trial
  • The Copper Gauntlet
  • The Bronze Key
  • The Silver Mask
  • The Enemy of Death

It’s true. The story line does sound a bit like Harry Potter...boy who doesn’t know he has magic powers, lost mother in serious magical confrontation of good versus evil, is selected for fabulous magic boarding school, continues battle of good versus evil for the next generation. If you love to visit this kind of world you definitely need to read Harry Potter by JK Rowling if you haven’t already:

Or there’s this brilliant sequence by Joseph Delaney to settle into:

Also you might really enjoy the Dalemark Quartet by Diana Wynne Jones:

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