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The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare {3.5 Stars}

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare is the start to a new middle grade fantasy series from these two very much beloved authors. While The Iron Trial has some interesting and fun concepts, it doesn’t really live up to the expectations that come with “young boy goes to magic school” that I now have. The ending, however, shows that Black and Clare could take this series in a very cool and interesting new direction, so I do recommend you stick it out through the slow middle since I’m now quite excited for the second book :D.

Note: I received a finished copy of The Iron Trial from the publisher.

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare {3.5 Stars}

The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare, Holly Black (Magisterium #1)
Published by Scholastic Press on Sept. 9th, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, MG
Page Length: 304 pages
How I got my copy: Publisher
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Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial.

Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.

All his life, Call 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 . . .

3.5 Stars


  • You may think that magic schools have to take place in far off castles, but the magic school in The Iron Trial isn’t in a castle, it’s in a sparkly underground cave network :D. I loved the imagery that went along with beautiful crystal formations all over the walls and the little details like most of the food being various types of mushrooms magically flavored to taste like pizza ;-). Can I get some magically flavored mushrooms please? I’ll take the chocolate ice cream variety though I think!
  • It’s great to see diversity of characters being woven in naturally to The Iron Trial. The main character, Callum, is handicapped by a shattered leg and so frequently struggles with keeping up with the other kids and performing all the physically involved activities at school. I also liked that the smart girl secondary character is dark-skinned, but also isn’t the only person of color mentioned. It really felt like the scenes portrayed in The Iron Trial were reflective of an actual human population.
  • I was worried for a while that The Iron Trial would take the easy way out with a “chosen one” trope, but I was quite surprised at the twist that Black and Clare used to make this fairly worn out trope fresh and fun ;-).
  • Once I hit the last 40 or so pages, I was seriously hooked and reading as fast as I could. I had no idea how things would end up playing out because The Iron Trial had already proven that it wasn’t going to follow the trope-filled road I expected and I loved that! So when is book two coming out again??
  • The Iron Trial has lovely chapter illustrations with a nicely distinct style. They lend a nice sense of foreboding when they portray something kind of creepy, haha.


  • The middle of The Iron Trial drags pretty terribly. There is a lot of learning how magic works and getting better at magic without anything all that interesting happening. This is also where I started worrying that we’d fall into trope-land, so I was just kind of cringing and waiting for the other shoe to drop.
  • The Iron Trial distinctly lacks the sort of magical, whimsical feeling that I expect when reading about magic school. Maybe because The Iron Trial takes place in a cave? I’m just not sure, but I didn’t find myself enchanted by any means.
  • I have to be frank here: the first 2/3 of The Iron Trial really felt like Harry Potter knockoff and I was pretty disappointed. The last third definitely strays from that and I have hope for the sequel, but there was definitely a problem with the first 2/3 for me.
  • Overall the magic of The Iron Trial just felt kind of bland. It uses the typical four elements type of logic with a fifth element, Chaos, thrown in for giggles. The kids spend a good while sorting sand to improve some skill or another, but that just isn’t that exciting to read about, no matter how much concentration it takes for them to actually do it….


The Iron Trial hides a pretty cool idea until the very end, so if you love middle grade fantasy enough to push through the first 2/3, you might actually quite enjoy the series if it goes the way I hope it will. Overall though, I have to recommend that if you’re on the fence, wait until book two is out and see if the series is actually worth investing time into. I’ll be reading book two for sure though!

Anya from On Starships and Dragonwings

Have you read this one? What did you think? Are you excited for it if you haven’t gotten to it yet?
– Anya


 The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

© 2014, Anya. All rights reserved.


  1. This is on my TBR list so glad to see such a well rounded review. At least I’ll be going into it with the right expectations and I know to look forward to a game-changing ending. Great stuff!
    Joel @ The Library Rat recently posted…Here is Where by Andrew CarrollMy Profile

  2. I liked this book and then after that ending I was in love! I thought I could predict what kind of book this was, boy was I wrong. Yes, the middle was a little slow, but it didn’t bother me. My review (gush) didn’t go into specifics, but I really wish I’d mentioned some of the things you did. Nice review! I can’t wait for the next one now!
    Molly Mortensen recently posted…Angelbound Armageddon By Christina BauerMy Profile

    • So agreed! I totally thought I knew how things would go and was completely surprised :D I’m really excited to see if the tone at the end is kept through the second book

  3. It’s interesting you say it reminds you a bit of a Potter knockoff. I actually saw Cassandra Clare at a convention last month where she was a keynote speaker with Holly Black. I noticed her make quite a few digs at Harry Potter. I’m like that’s kind of weird but didn’t think much about it.
    I do like magic schools and I like how they twisted the story to make it interesting. It’s on my list to read and now I’m wondering about this sand…
    Jen recently posted…Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini #BookReview #ReadTrialbyFireMy Profile

    • Wasn’t Clare a Harry Potter fanfic writer before she was discovered? That all seems a bit awkward, haha.

      SAND! All the sand!

  4. Well, I’m glad that your experience with this one was a bit more on the positive side than the reviews I’d seen thus far. Lots of people seem to have had issues with the HP-vibe and the lack of whimsy, which definitely have me worried. I have a feeling I might get stuck in the omg-this-is-a-HP-knock-off bit and that it might turn me into a rage-monster LOL The way you described the ending is encouraging though. And especially if the sequel continues with that trend as you say :) Wonderful advice and wonderful review ^^
    Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows Reviews recently posted…Review: Words of RadianceMy Profile

    • But at least you know now right? ;-) Then last third is definitely way different and awesome, so I have high hopes!

  5. Sounds OK. I still have a lot of love for Potter; and have no problem with magical schools. Like them better than the dystopia of the month club in most places.
    Nathan (@reviewbarn) recently posted…Tough Travels – ElvesMy Profile

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