Monday, September 1, 2014

Triple ARC Review: The Iron Trial - Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

The Iron Trial
Holly Black & Cassandra Clare
Series: Magisterium, #1
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Release Date: September 9th, 2014
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Word Rating: A+
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository


For anyone interested in words that are not crafted out of raw magic, here's a review:

At first I was prepared for this book. I realized that no one can be prepared for this book.

First, the construction of the novel– Black/Clare bring it to another level. The design of this narrative is so precise and meticulous that it's difficult to think about without architectural analogies.

There's little doubt that Black and Clare are master world-builders. The world of The Iron Trial is no exception. From the caverns of the Magesterium to a wall of ice and death and crippled babies, the authors pour over the architecture of this world . . . of course, it wouldn't be Holly Black if was expressed in any orthodox way . . .

Remember all the beauty and wonder that Hogwarts brought when Harry first walked through it?

This is what our protag experiences:
“Once . . . [Call's] father had taken him to a big park, with rides that started like this. He'd cried through all of them, totally terrified, despite the cheerful music and the animated puppets. And those had been rides. This was real. Call kept thinking about the bats and sharp rocks and how, sometimes, in caves, there were cliffs and holes that dropped down like a million feet below sea level. . . . The boat cut through the water, into darkness.” (ARC 81)
Not quite the same feeling, right? It makes you think what kind of place these kids are being sucked into. But you quickly find out The Magesterium is not a bleak place. Call is simply scared. But the fact that the authors present it this way gives them endless leverage to present the beauty of the Magesterium as stone-cold fact, by someone who has to be won over by that beauty.

Of course, it isn't just the world that is so breathtakingly built. The events of this novel unfold from a startling beginning to a deceptively relaxed introduction to . . . I don't even know. I can't even explain how well put together it is. The plot points converge in ways that lit sparks in my head, leaving me struck and perpetually stuck on the question of how did they do that? Really? The scene where Call is trying to contact his dad and meets a training, hopeless Jasper, manages to steal Rufus's talking lizard, finds out that he has been lied to or he is a danger . . . all within the span of a page or two . . . and it makes perfect sense? How?

The most amazing thing? You probably won't even notice it because of the combined narration of Black/Clare. Their use of accessible language and a rich, pointed voice creates a sense of weightlessness – you will fly right through this novel at breakneck pace. The authors manage to create a seamless experience, where everything the language portrays – characters, ideas, the tug of tension – is allowed to shine unhindered by clunky or unpolished voices.

In addition, the cast that populates The Iron Trial's pages are wonderfully realistic, and at the same time enchanting.

Callum Hunt, for instance, is not your run-of-the mill protag. I have been waiting for a protagonist that isn't the hero for many, many, many years, and Black/Clare deliver a striking, fresh one to drink in. The kid is more or less completely atonal to the Harry Potters, Percy Jacksons, and yes, the Clarissa Morgensterns, of the fiction we've come to know and love. Callum refuses to be involved with magic full stop. He tries his best to fail the Iron Trial, tries to escape the Magesterium, tries to distance himself from everyone there, and so on.

I love love love Callum Hunt. Complex protagonists are a risk because the reader might not connect with them, but with Black/Clare, the risk pays off so much they could buy an island and populate it with all of my feels for Call.

Callum's got more than enough bite to compensate for any weakness one might see in his broken leg, enough sarcasm to fill an ocean, and the moral ambiguity usually given to a dare-devil anti-hero type. That ambiguity is re-imagined and brought to life in a struggling, confused, loving, relateable protagonist. It's easy to say a protagonist is relateable in YA and children's books, but I really felt a deep connection with Callum. I understood his hardship and his doubt, why he trusted his father's judgements about Mages and the Magesterium, and why it was so hard for him to find peace in the world of magic. Look at this sarcasm:
“Everybody lives in pony school.” (ARC 55)
EVERYBODY LIVES IN PONY SCHOOL. Call at once calls out what he feels is the nonsense of the Magesterium: all the school does is get people killed. At the same time, he's vaguely mocking a pony-obsessed minor character and he's majorly pissing off his future team mates – how can one guy be that offensive just damn!

But in the fashion of Black and Clare, no character goes to waste. The rest of the cast is interesting and believable – no one is reduced to decoration. Tamara and Aaron, Callum's main support and contrast throughout the novel, stick a little closer to the conventional heroes: the talented Aaron is the long-awaited Makar, a rare mage that can rival the Enemy, and Tamara is a genius mage with strict and forceful parents and a dark past. These three mix in unsuspecting and often endearing ways. Callum takes an eternity to stop being a big ball of suck to Aaron and Tamara, but once he befriends them, the trio just works, with Aaron and Call set to be The Iron Trial equivalent of parabatai by the end of the book. Most of their interactions can be expressed with comedic bits (some of which you really won't understand until you read so please do that now):
“I'm going to kill you,” Tamara said very calmly. “I am going to sort your guts into piles.” (ARC 88)
Even the most minor characters have their roles and play them without falling flat or being too intrusive. It's almost unbelievable how well the tiniest joke fits in with the most brilliant thematic examinations.

With such a powerful integration of characterization and language into an already masterful plot structure, The Iron Trial already crushes most contemporary fantasy and is definitely one of the best children's/YA book I've read this year so far.

PS. Spoiler: the end's going to seriously frak you up.

- Marlon

Kiersten's Review of The Iron Trial
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Incredible 

It's no secret that the bloggers of We Live and Breathe Books are Cassandra Clare fans - this is without question. So, naturally, since she and the amazing Holly Black were signing ARCs of The Iron Trial at BEA this year, we all had to get copies, regardless of the wait. Let me tell you something about this book - it was worth the wait.

The world of the Magisterium is one that is so easy to get pulled into. Not only is it full of adventure for the characters, but it is so rich with history and tradition that the reader can feel the magnitude of its meaning. I absolutely loved all the little details about how the Magisterium works and the different ceremonies and symbols used throughout.

Inside of the incredible world built by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare are equally great characters. There is a very diverse mix of characters in the bunch and they all brought something different to the table. The dynamic between the characters was especially spectacular because it felt so real. The story is about a bunch of 12-year-old kids who are on their own and finding themselves while training at an intense magic school.

Of course, while there are a few prominent characters in the bunch, the most prominent is Callum, the main character. The best thing about Callum is that he is a surprising character, especially with the way he deals with his problems. I loved that Cassandra Clare and Holly Black created a character who had the potential to be a hero but wasn't necessarily up to it. Callum is absolutely not your typical main character, and, because of that, he brings so much more to the story.

Throughout the book, a lot of it is building up the relationships between the students, showing the reader the world of the Magisterium, and following the challenges that the students face. Throughout the story, I couldn't help but feel as though there was a larger conflict to come - a sort of foreboding. Of course, there was a big conflict (because there had to be something big) that doesn't come until fairly late into the story, and it is a real doozy. The funny thing about it is that I had two guesses about what was going to happen but I knew that somehow Holly Black and Cassandra Clare would a way to make it something unexpected. Shockingly, it was something I did not expect.

Overall, The Iron Trial is incredible and my words do not do it justice. Cassandra Clare and Holly Black truly bring something great to this genre with their unexpected story and characters. I absolutely fell in love with the story while reading and I was so eager to keep reading to find out the mystery behind Callum. I'm really looking forward to more in this series - I can't wait to see what the story has in store and the way the characters continue to grow and face the challenges that come their way.

- Kiersten

Noor's Review of The Iron Trial
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Fabulous 

Wow, I'm so glad I waited in line for this book at BEA because if the duo of Holly Black and Cassandra Clare sounds intimidating and fierce, jus Wow, I'm so glad I waited in line for this book at BEA because if the duo of Holly Black and Cassandra Clare sounds intimidating and fierce, just wait until they take that level of ferocity to the page.

I think what I loved the absolute most about this book was the fact that the two authors took the trope of the school for magic and really flipped it and molded it so everything was new and refreshing and, most of all, unexpected. The entire world Clare and Black bring to the reader is so carefully constructed, every plot point begging a question, every twist leading into a turn. It’s clear that every moment is very deliberately placed in order to trick the reader, because the story certainly is not going in a direction that can be considered predictable.

Because of the nature of the book, the worldbuilding is – excuse my terrible pun – out of this world. The book features so many different concepts in the world like the Magisterium itself, the concept of which has a slew of things to explore branching off of it, like how the school works, and who gets chosen, and what is learned, and the inner workings of those who end up staying. There is also focus on the history of everything that’s going on and how the past comes into play and affects certain characters.

Speaking of the characters, I thought they were so well written and enjoyable, and just as hardheaded as 12-year olds generally are, which is always fun to read. As seasoned authors, Clare and Black definitely could create well-rounded characters with their hands tied behind their backs, being forced to peck at a keyboard with only five keys. Call often made amusing comments and got himself into a fair bit of mischief. We also get to know Aaron and Tamara, who end up befriending him. I got pretty invested in both of these characters and how they both brought different things to the table and were full of charm in their own ways. I liked Aaron and how he had such a good heart and was supportive and I liked Tamara and how Call thought she was an emotionless robot but really she gets pretty fired up. Even the minor characters added to the story and weren’t simply thrown in.

And even though it's a third person point of view, we still see a lot of Call's voice in the narration, which I think makes the book a lot better and makes the way it reads very interesting -- the voice reminds the reader that it's a middle-grade book, but the writing style and many other aspects of the book make him or her forget. The writing is done so well and every description is beautiful and every action scene is heart-stopping and it's all so well-done you picture it all so clearly in your mind but you forget that you're even reading descriptions of anything at all until you come across a particularly beautifully worded sentence and have to stop for a minute to admire it.

I enjoyed the plot of the book, especially how it related to Call's past and what the future now holds for him. I think the pacing was a little slow towards the beginning/middle because a lot of time was spent just showing them the ropes of the school, but that can be forgiven because it really was just a lot of worldbuilding and explaining how the Magisterium worked and I think in the rest of the series it shouldn't be a problem because we have a basic foundation already. The plot itself was very interesting and I'm excited to see where they go in the next book in the series after the way The Iron Trial ended. I liked that even though a lot of the book is Clare and Black rejecting traditional conventions of fantasy in order to surprise the reader with the kind of book this was, they weren't afraid of include some aspects that might seem to be used in other places, as long as they added something new to the mix. I like the idea that lots of things have been done before, but if you're doing it differently, well, there you go.

Overall, I really loved The Iron Trial. It has so many more components than I even mentioned in this review but it’s honestly best to just read it all and see for yourself, especially because it’s such an atypical story in a genre full of the same tropes and plots. I’m so glad I got to read an ARC of this but that just means an even longer wait until the next book, which I’m certainly anticipating greatly!

- Noor

Would you rather attend Pony School or the Magisterium?
Let us know in the comments!

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