Review. Holly Black & Cassandra Clare, The Iron Trial

You know, no matter what crappy books I read during the year, there is something extremely satisfying about finishing a great book on the 31st of December. When on the 1st the new Bookclub challenge was announced – reading a book written by two or more authors – I had several options. I did had some other books to read, however, so I postponed reading the challenge-book. As the last week of December reared its festive head, I became slightly panicky. No way I was going to pull off reading a 500+ paged brick. So I took the small option available, being The Iron Trial. So where did that leave me with regards to finishing the year with a bookish bang?

Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial.
Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.
All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him.
So he tries his best to do his worst — and fails at failing.
Now the Magisterium awaits him. It’s a place that’s both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future. The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come…

Before I even got this book, I already heard about the apparent numerous comparisons to Harry Potter. Granted, every time a powerful and evil sorcerer or a magic school appears in a book for young(er) readers, people will start crying rip-off. While that is not fair to any post-Rowling writer, the similarities in The Iron Trial are pretty in your face. There were certain scenes that could have been copy-pasted from The Philosopher’s Stone with only the names changed – I’m talking about the ending, in the infirmary. Other times it was less blatant, but you could still notice it easily enough. If that doesn’t bother you too much, though, you can find quite a fun middle grade story here. The plot has a nice flow to it and if you’re not good at guessing twists – as I am – then you’re in for a nice surprise.
Hermione pre-Troll Attack
Black and Clare also came up with their own magic system, which is pretty understandable without being boring. While our protagonists don’t pull of great magical feats, the expanse of the magical possibilities is hinted at in the margins. Take for example the movie being displayed in the gaming hall. That’s where this book finds its greatest merit, in the details. As you wander the different caves of the Magisterium, you can paint a vivid and colourful picture of the surroundings, of the food, the animals, … Also the stuff with the gates and all is a nice find, though I wish it had some punch to it. When things finally get out of the sand, stuff starts happening. It might not be all that believeable, especially when the whole school goes out to look for a student gone AWOL, and our little band of heroes is out there alone in the dark. Cause everyone responsible for 12-year-olds takes them on a mission with imminent danger. But oh well, if everyone behaved according to what should, the plot would not move an inch, would it? This book might not have gotten the greatest last chapters in book history, and if you take out the big reveal there’s not much left to be excited about, but it does set up nicely for the next books in the series. As long as you take it for what it is, a first book in a series, then this is quite enjoyable.
The characters are, unfortunately, a tad bland. I vaguely remember Callum, the protagonist, to be a whiney little kid and the girl – whose name I had to look back up for the purpose of this review – Tamara resembled Hermione pre-Troll Attack way too much not to call her Hindu Hermione instead of Tamara. The guy-friend, Aaron, well, I don’t remember him too well with the exception of that thing that happened. The other characters were kind of watered down versions of Malfoy, Dumbledore and that’s about it when it comes to important characters. Even the baddies don’t feel all that threathening. The plot twist does some explaining on this front, I guess, so we’ll see how this goes along.
if everyone behaved according to what should, the plot would not move an inch
When reading a novel written by two or more authors, you risk that they each wrote some chapters and the difference in writing is apparent. Not so here, I can’t tell you what Clare has written and which parts were done by Black, if they wrote separate chapters to beging with. So that is a good thing. It’s quite a fluent read with language that fits our timeperiod. No fancy magical language, no nifty or clever things. In that aspect, it’s not the most exciting read and while you can’t tell that this was a co-write, the prose is not all that memorable.

That is perhaps what defines my reading experience with this book. It’s not all that memorable. I wouldn’t dare say that this is a bad book, cause it’s not. But it’s not terribly good either. It’s very safe and very middle-of-the-road, while it won’t rub a lot of people the wrong way, I don’t see this gaining a cult following and fandom anytime soon. The biggest thing are the authors’s names on the cover and while I will continue on, this won’t be top of the list anytime soon.

★ ★ ★

Join the Magisterium. They’re hiring.

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