Friday, November 28, 2014

The Iron Trial

The Iron Trial is the first middle grade fantasy novel in Holly Black and Cassandra Clare’s new Magisterium series.

All of Callum Hunt’s life, his father has been adamant about steering clear of magic – that it’s dangerous, that it’s something to be avoided entirely.

So, though most kids are excited to be going to the Iron Trial – a test for children exhibiting possible magical abilities to be entered into apprenticeship education at the Magisterium – Callum is entering into it with the intention of failing.

Failing on purpose.

Yet the tests end up being more obscure than Callum expected – and though he does poorly, somehow he still manages to be selected to be a student.

Tearing Callum aware from his shouting father, Callum’s mind thunders with all of the warnings and fears his father pounded into his head over the years.

Now he has no choice but to face those forewarnings and try to get thrown out and go home before it’s too late…

I could have given even more information in that synopsis – but I’d say less is often more when you enter a novel. Might as well be surprised as often as possible, huh?!

The Iron Trial has left me with a rather split opinion.

On the one hand, Callum is an interesting character – he’s sarcastic, distrustful and both loyal to his dad while also longing for a place to belong. Having dealt with a disabled leg since birth, he’s built up defenses against the cruelty of others and has come out the other end as he is.

On the other hand, the plot often feels very familiar. Of course one obviously easy comparison is Harry Potter. Now, really The Iron Trial is not all that similar to Harry Potter – besides being a magical boarding school.

In The Iron Trial the magic is elemental and the school is – intentionally – nowhere near as fun as Hogwarts. There’s a sense that the Magisterium is not concerned with the students safety at all, which is rather attention-grabbing.

However, at the same time, there are some scenes in which I felt a marked déjà vu – Callum works primarily with one other boy and girl student. The primary villain is the “Enemy of Death”, someone who has become immortal. Certain scenes at the end - no details here - felt eerily similar to scenes at the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

I’m not saying that The Iron Trial is trying to be Harry Potter or that there’s any copying going on – it just left me with an odd impression.

Part of me is interested in continuing with the series – which is being approached as five books – and another part of me is not. How much familiar ground are we going to cover? Why do I have such a strange sense of déjà vu?

Like I said, I’m of a split opinion.

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