Science fiction and fantasy
Magisterium: The Iron Trial
by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black
Still here? Okay, here's the big revelation: this isn't Harry Potter.
I realise most books aren't Harry Potter, and it's no spoiler at all. But the authors of this novel go to great lengths to convince readers otherwise. Callum Hunt is a boy whose mother died by magical violence when he was very young. He's a misfit in the ordinary world, and he ends up at magic school where he tries very hard to fail the entrance exam. There he finds two close companions, a bunch of sneering peers, one sinister and slightly mean magic teacher, and a warmongering dark lord who everyone is afraid will return to power and slaughter them all. The dark lord is even called the Enemy of Death, just as Voldemort was the chief Death Eater.
However, this novel isn't a mere copycat because these elements are a knowing nod to the Chosen One trope (it explains this in the notes at the back). And that's all I'll say on the plot.
The book was written by each author contributing alternate chapters, but I couldn't tell who wrote which chapter. The differences in style were negligible.
Call is a sarcastic jerk, but he knows it and eventually mellows towards some of the other characters. He always has a comeback, and his cheeky voice kept me turning pages. His friends Tamara and Aaron seem more down to earth, although both of them have family histories full of mystery or issues.
The setting of the Magisterium is an underground cave complex full of wonders, secret passages, and hidden dangers. It would make a great video game. The story is set somewhere in modern America, where no-one would notice rogue elementals, freaky-eyed killer wolves, or hordes of soulless zombies. This story is all about fun rather than realism. Kids tap into endless free magic and dine off lichen and strange mushrooms that somehow taste more delicious than anything they can get at home. They learn to fly, juggle with fire, and generally have a spiffing time when they're not running for their lives.
In spite of some cunning twists, Magisterium: The Iron Trial is a little derivative. It's firmly in the upper middle-grade to lower YA age range, with illustrations at the start of each chapter. It's an enjoyable adventure that will appeal to a lot of younger readers either before or after reading the Harry Potter series.
26th August 2015
If you like this, try:Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Supervillians. They get younger every year.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
Is this a book, or a phenomenon? Harry enters his fifth year at Hogwarts.
Review © Ros Jackson
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