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The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare - Review

The Iron Trial - Cassandra Clare, Holly Black

“The Iron Trial” has been called the new Harry Potter series. Now, I have become very careful when it comes to comparison like that because lately any book with magic or a magic school in it is compared to Harry Potter the same way any dystopia book is compared to The Hunger Games. I do not like these comparisons – just because one element is identical, the books are not the same. “The Iron Trial” does remind one of the Harry Potter series but it is the first book of a series of its own that has great potential but leaves much to be desired.


I had “The Iron Trial” in my hands many times before I actually bought it. The German cover is just beautiful. I have been curious about story since I first heard of it but I did not buy it until shortly before Christmas when I was in the mood to read a middle grade book. The American cover shows a strong resemblance to the Harry Potter series: a trio consisting of two boys and a girl, and a villain that looks a lot like a Death Eater. Coincidence? I do not think so. I believe the marketing team is using that image to lure in everyone who is hoping for a new series like Harry Potter. The German cover on the other hand has no resemblance to the Harry Potter series. The cover looks interesting and the side of the pages is covered in the same orange as it is on the front. It looks magical.


The main protagonist is Callum Hunt who “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 . . .” (Goodreads)

I usually do not compare books to pre-existing books but sometimes it is really difficult not to. “The Iron Trial” is one of these books. While the whole magic system is completely different, you can tell that Black and Clare created that world only half-heartedly. Harry Potter was so amazing because Rowling had created this whole universe with so many details. In “The Iron Trial” we have the Magisterium as the magic school but it is hard to picture it. The descriptions are so unspecific. There are classes and teachers but most of the teachers I have no idea what they look like. Classes are only mentioned in between. What happens during the whole year? Besides the first four rules we learn nothing how the magic works. What do they learn during the lectures? What about Christmas? Are there any festivities? The world-building is not thought-through. Or if it is, it is not brought across to the reader.


This incompleteness continues in the story itself. As the reader, we get thrown into the story and it ends so abruptly that it feels like pages are missing. Black and Clare throw little pieces of the story at the reader. The storytelling is not fluent. The story is interrupted unexpectedly in the one moment and skips ahead in the next. That way it is hard to get into the story.

Callum Hunt again reminded me of Harry Potter. Harry Potter has his scar, Callum has his injured leg. Fortunately, for once, the main protagonist is not THE ONE. The one, everyone is waiting for. The hero. The rescuer of the world. I like that. It will be interesting to see how the story evolves from the eyes of the side-kick. Also, the plot-twist towards the end gives the story an interesting turn. I cannot say much about the characters and character developments because – like the world-building – they are all very flat and colorless. There are traces of personalities but I could not connect with anyone.


The last problem I had with this book was the writing. While this book was written okay, it misses the magic. A book about magic and a magic school has to be magical! That is a given. Unfortunately, Black and Clare did not deliver at all. What made the Harry Potter books such a success was Rowling’s incredible talent to let the reader feel the magic in every sentence she wrote. In “The Iron Trial” I read about magic but I cannot feel it. It feels stiff and dry. The writing was easy to read and fluent but there was not even a hint of magic in the writing. And that does not work in a book like “The Iron Trial”.


After this review, one might think I hated the book but that is not true. I was a little frustrated because it has so much potential but is executed so poorly. I want to read the next book. The story itself is good and the series can become very interesting. But for that Black and Clare need to up their game. It is not enough to half-heartedly write down a story. With all the similarities to Harry Potter it will be compared to it. The story has nothing in common and is worth of its own but the magical feeling has to be present in the second book or this series will be a sinking ship.