Title: The Iron Trial
Author: Cassandra Clare & Holly Black
Publisher: Doubleday Children’s
Publication date: September 9th 2014
Buy at: BookDepository
From NEW YORK TIMES bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare comes a riveting new series that defies what you think you know about the world of magic.
From two bestselling superstars, a dazzling and magical middle-grade collaboration centering on the students of the Magisterium, an academy for those with a propensity toward magic. In this first book, a new student comes to the Magisterium against his will — is it because he is destined to be a powerful magician, or is the truth more twisted than that? It’s a journey that will thrill you, surprise you, and make you wonder about the clear-cut distinction usually made between good and evil.
I really wanted to love this book. Despite having only really enjoyed two out of the six Cassandra Clare books I read, and having only read one Holly Black novel (which I adored), I had high hopes for The Iron Trial. I thought that, with Clare’s interesting worldbuilding and Black’s beautiful grasp of human relationships, this would be a one of a kind book. Besides, if the characters were around twelve (though they read around fifteen), I wouldn’t have to deal with my big problem regarding Clare’s writing: the love triangles.
Instead, I embarked on a journey full of other things that upset me, including the fact that the majority of the book felt like a mash up of “Harry Potter” and “Percy Jackson”, whilst the end had “Heroes of Olympus” and “Good Omens” added up to the mesh. These are all good books, some of my favourites I dare say. There’s nothing wrong with taking some ideas from them (storytelling does rely heavily on repeating and tweaking the ideas), but when some scenes are obvious retellings of bits of this or that book, well… it can get pretty frustrating.
Now, I understand what they wanted to do with this, and it is a commendable idea. Inverting clichés can give rise to amazing stories. The problem is that it wasn’t well done. The authors spent a good portion of the story throwing supposed clues at the readers, trying to lead them into the casual fantasy tropes. They did it so often and so blatantly that it was clear they were nothing but red herrings. So, by wanting to surprise the reader, they ended up spelling out the ending in bright colours.
If they hadn’t spent so much effort trying to distract the reader, I probably would have liked it a lot more. I mean, in the end, it is an interesting idea. But as it is, it just ruined the book for me. I couldn’t connect to the characters or care about the plot itself as I was too busy thinking “really?” at the convenient info dumps. I do wish I hadn’t.
After all, The Iron Trial has a diverse cast of characters, including people of colour, foster kids, children from broken families, etc. The main character has a physical disability, for heaven’s sake! This is something we need a lot more of, and that the authors provided in abundance. The humour too, whilst not the best I’ve ever read, is wittily entertaining, and Clare and Black even included a little something a lot of people have mentioned to be missing in magical school books: the fact that kids will inevitably miss things like Internet and pizza. Now that was a great jab at the cliché of the magical worlds being perfect (bar the mandatory wars and bullies, of course).
The plot too could have shined a lot more if there weren’t for the constant red herrings. Here we have a boy who, as a baby, was once found by his father in the aftermath of a battle surrounded by the dead. Baby Callum was resting close to his mother who had written on the floor her last message: “kill the boy”. A boy who is told throughout his childhood that mages and magic are dangerous, deadly and deceitful. A boy who, when told to go to the Iron Trial, which will deem whether he is a capable enough magic wielder to study magic, tries so badly to botch his exams the mages can’t help but take him in. A boy who, while everyone else is excited about going to the Magisterium, is shaking in his boots and planning ways to run away. Quite a lot to be intrigued about, no?
If I hadn’t felt like the authors were trying to trick me for the majority of the book, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it a lot more. Still, I might give the next book a try. Despite everything I am curious to see how they’ll continue the genre subversion they began with The Iron Trial. I just hope they’ll drop the obvious red herrings for the next books.
The book in a quote
“They all yelled in excitement. Tamara yelled because she was happy. Aaron yelled because he liked it when other people were happy, and Call yelled because he was sure they were going to die.”