Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

The Iron Trial The Iron Trial: Magisterium #1
by Cassandra Clare And Holly Black

Supplied for review by Random HouseNew Zealand

Reviewed By: Jacqui Smith

I began this novel with a distinct sense of déjà vu. It looks like a somewhat Americanised Harry Potter clone, and indeed it is, with a more coherent magic system, and a somewhat more plausible setting (just how do you hide a castle the size of Hogwarts?) The Magisterium is as you might expect, a wizard school, but it’s somewhere in the eastern US underground in a natural cave system (possibly based on the Luray Caverns in Virginia). Our lead characters are apprentice mages, in their first, or "iron" year. The protagonist is Call (short for Callum – I would have thought it should be Cal, but the authors chose otherwise) who is one of those irritating young teens that seem to populate a certain type of juvenile literature. With better reason than most, as it turns out. He finds himself sitting the entrance test for the Magisterium, and tries desperately to fail, only in his failure he manages to prove his not inconsiderable talent for magic. He must be trained, is apprenticed, and spends considerable time learning concentration and control. And then another student runs away, precipitating a series of events that leads to a spectacular climax with a fine twist on the "I am your father" moment.

The problem is that it is all very like Harry Potter and has been royally criticised for just that similarity. On the other hand, I’ve seen people carping at "magical school" stories which were actually published considerably earlier claiming that they were ripping off Potter. In fact, it was Harry Potter that "copied" earlier work, notably T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone (Rowling admits as much). So, should we make comparisons, or let each new story stand or fall on its own merit? The Iron Trial has its merits, it’s an enjoyable read, and well enough written. In many ways, it makes more sense than the Potter books, so if that’s the sort of thing you like, read and enjoy!

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