The Iron Trial

by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
First sentence: “From a distance, the man struggling up the white face of the glacier might have looked like an ant crawling slowly up the side of a dinner plate.”
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Content: There’s some intense violence at the start, but nothing worse than, say, Harry Potter. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore. We’ll see how the series goes; it might change.

Callum has grown up believing that magic is bad, that the mages at the Magisterium only put their interests in front of the students, that his leg which was injured as a baby and never healed right was the fault of the mages. His father — once a mage himself — has told Call this among other things. So when Call gets summoned for the Iron Trial — the selection process for the Magesterium — his father tells him to throw the entry. And, because Call is only 12 years old, he tries. And fails. He gets into the Magesterium and is exposed not only to the dreaded magic, but also the story of his past that his father never told.

I’m just going to come out and say it: it’s Harry Potter. The similarities are really numerous — a boy raised as an outsider finds out he’s magic, he has a special calling, he was at the death/disappearance of the Enemy and has a connection to him (um… bit of a spoiler, there. Sorry.), the story takes place over a school year, he has two friends (a boy and a girl), there’s a rich snob bully boy, and on and on.

Except, for all the similarities, it works. I’ve been looking for a (good) Harry Potter read-alike for years, and this one — Black and Clare are superb writers in their own right — fills the bill. The world building is solid, the magic interesting. And there’s a bit of a twist that caught me off guard. So, even though there’s solid Harry Potter similarities, it’s definitely worth reading.

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