Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Magisterium: The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Title: The Iron Trial
Author: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Published by: Doubleday Children's Books
Publication date: 9th September 2014
Pages: 295
Genres: Middle grade/Fantasy/Paranormal
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the Guardian newspaper.

Think you know magic? Think again. The Magisterium awaits...

Most people would do anything to get into the Magisterium and pass the Iron Trial.

Not Callum Hunt.

Call has been told his whole life that he should never trust a magician. And so he tries his best to do his worst - but fails at failing.

Now he must enter the Magisterium.

It's a place that's both sensational and sinister. And Call realises it has dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.

The Iron Trial is just the beginning. Call's biggest test is still to come...

Everyone who knows me should know by now that I am a HUGE fan of Cassandra Clare. After reading ten of her books and adoring every single one, I've got to know her writing style and, as such, I know what to expect from her. In short, I'd set my standards pretty high for this book... which ended up being a mistake on my part.

I've never read anything by Holly Black before so I have no idea if her writing is my cup of tea or not, and therefore I don't know whether it was her influence which ruined the book for me or if it was Cassandra Clare. Or perhaps it was the plot, the pace, the characters... there are many possible reasons for me not enjoying this book as much as I thought I would - I just don't know which it is.

I was incredibly lucky to receive an ARC of this at the start of July, and when it arrived I just stared at the book in shocked excitement. Whether I enjoyed the book or not, this is an ARC of a book written by two phenomenal authors and it still sits proudly on my shelf. I just wish I'd enjoyed it more than I did.

Everyone's said it already and I really didn't want to jump on the bandwagon, but... this is like a cheap version of Harry Potter. I'm sorry, but it is. J.K Rowling doesn't own the idea of kids going to a magic school, but there's a point when someone can get way too close to an idea, and that's what Black and Clare have done here. No, the story doesn't include broomsticks, Hagrid, fancy Latin spells or even wands, but what it does include are most of the major Harry Potter plot points.

The similarities

- A secondary school where kids go to learn magic. Hogwarts / Magisterium. 
- Two boys and a girl who don't immediately get along but quickly become good, loyal friends to one another. Harry, Ron, Hermione / Callum, Aaron, Tamara.
- A 'master' who gives them vague instructions that, at the time, seem to have no relevance to the overall task. Dumbledore / Master Rufus.
- 'The enemy' who used to be a student at the school but became evil. Voldemort / Constantine Madden.
- The army of 'the enemy' consists of black-cloaked evil people who wear creepy masks. Death eaters / Chaos-ridden.
- The woods surrounding the school are full of murderous creatures. Hogwarts / Magisterium.
- There's an archway in Harry Potter with a sort of shimmering veil - I'm not too good at describing it because it's been so long since I've read the books, but if you've read them you'll know what I'm talking about - and there's one exactly the same in The Iron Trial. It doesn't have the same function, but the design is identical.

Clare has a serious past with plagiarism. [source] Just so you know. Mostly with Harry Potter fan fiction. Yep, when I found that out after reading this book, I was so surprised I forgot to be surprised.

Not to mention that the world-building was awful. Clare's world-building is usually mind blowing and I'm sure Black's is too, being such a popular author. But it was so vague yet complicated this time. I tried to picture the scenes in my head but I just couldn't, and it seemed to me like the authors were struggling to picture it themselves which is why it came across so messily. Perhaps an illustrated map in the front of the final edition would be a good idea? It wouldn't make the writing any better but it would help...

Not only was the world-building practically non-existent, but the writing was as bland as cornflakes. I've only ever read Clare's YA books and I know this is aimed at a younger audience, but I don't believe that should cause the author to dumb down his or her writing. No matter how old a reader is, if they don't understand something in a book they'll ask someone, check in a dictionary, or Google it. Simple.

Aaaand the characters? Tamara was okay - she made me chuckle a couple of times - but other than that, all of the characters seemingly merged into one. Gone were the witty one-liners and clever dialogue I loved so much in Clare's previous books.

Was the reading experience any better? Meh. It was alright. I found myself wanting to put the book down a lot and replace it with the Twitter app, which is never a good sign, but I persevered. I got to the interesting twist at the end which admittedly shocked me but the fascination was temporary. I finished the book, and I didn't feel a thing. No excitement. No fangirling. I'm not even interested in reading the next book in the series because, really, what's the point? The Iron Trial felt rushed, messy; as if the two of them had just scribbled down all of their ideas onto a piece of paper, typed it up, and stopped there.

I'm sorry to say this but I think after writing about Shadowhunters for so long that Cassandra Clare might have lost her touch when writing about other things unless it was Holly Black's influence which made the book less enjoyable. But then again, this was a joint effort between the both of them. I really don't know what to think except the fact that it simply didn't work.

Cassandra Clare is one of my favourite authors. In fact, I think she might be THE favourite. Maybe if I was slightly younger and not so analytically minded I might have enjoyed this. But the faults just popped up like flashing neon signs, one after the other, and it was so terribly disappointing, especially as it meant that my first experience with Black's writing was... this.

Overall, I don't recommend this at all whether you're a fan of the authors or not, and I can only hope that someone looking to read a Cassandra Clare novel for the first time stays well away from this one.


  1. That was a LONG review though it's great you put a lot of thought into the book. I can't remember if I've read any book by Holly Black right now. Personally I probably wouldn't have picked up IronTrials because Cassandra Clare isn't my favorite and the short stories by Holly Black aren't my favorite either. Really well planned review though.

    Amelia @ YA Bookologists

  2. wow! how disappointing for you Amber x

  3. I'm really disappointed with the Iron Trial now... I think I will be skipping it out like I was planning to. I didn't feel like reading it for some reason, but I think my instincts were right. It such a shame, because I love both Cassie and Holly's books, so I'm kind of thinking, where did they go wrong? What happened? The Harry Potter similarities are the worst thing for me, and they just disappoint me even more... I won't go into detail with every thing you said, but it just makes me sad that The Iron Trial didn't manage to bring the same level of awesomeness as their other books. Saying this, you should read Holly's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. IT IS AMAZING. SO. MUCH. FANGIRLING. Anyway, thank you SO much for this honest review- it can be hard to just imagine not liking your favourite author's book, so I get how you feel- I guess I'll be sticking with the Shadowhunters? XD

    1. Your instincts were definitely right. I'm not sure about Holly Black but Cassie Clare seems to have a new book out every month (not really, but it seems like it!) so maybe that's having an effect on her writing. But a lot of people loved this book so who knows?

      I have The Coldest Girl in Coldtown but The Iron Trial has kind of put me off... :/

  4. I really enjoyed this review, Amber, and I'm glad you were so honest and explained why you didn't enjoy it. I'm about a third of the way through this one far, I agree with you. It's such a shame as I really was excited about this but I'm just not feeling it :( x

    1. Thank you! Sorry you're not enjoying it either :(

  5. I had my eye on this one, even though I don't tend to read younger than YA. I've never read anything by Black either, and was aware of the Clare plagiarism scandal (is anything being done about it?) but only found out recently. When I reviewed TMI I actually commented that I got a HP vibe from it but that was before I knew the extent of the similarities. Anyways, aside from all that great review, Amber. If such a big CC fan wouldn't recommend it, I can probably steer clear :)

    1. I have no idea if anything's being done about the plagiarism. It was a long time ago, and I think taking the 'i' out of her surname got her out of trouble or something. Don't quote me on that!

  6. What actually happened with all the donkey problems in the end? And I love this review so much especially the gif and heck yes cornflakes are bland and I AM SO NOT READING THIS BOOK.

    1. Thank you and I have no idea. Probably nothing. She's famous now, with enough money to pay her way out of legal matters, I expect. :/

  7. Awww, I was looking forward to this one as well - such a shame it didn't work out. I haven't started yet but was intrigued by the idea, I want to give it a go but this is making me think twice!

  8. How disappointing to get a so expected (and promising) ARC and don't enjoy it...
    But your review is clever as always, honest and right to the point. Congrats on the great job.
    *PS. I see you've got a new chevron in the last few weeks – love it!

  9. This was a great review and I'm sorry you didn't like it. I'm still going to read it though because I think it will be fun and I want to read it myself and make my own opinions on it.

  10. I've been very curious to read this book, but after hearing just how similar it is to Harry Potter, and other disappointing factors, I'm not in any rush to pick this up. Thank you so much for your wonderful and honest review, Amber.

  11. This isn't really a review, it's more like a personal opinion. You're not making justice to the series, and people don't want to give it a chance only because you said you didn't like it. Ridiculous.
    1-You wrote that they had 'plot similarities', but only listed things like characters with common props and enemies.
    Have you ever thought that maybe just because someone writes about a man who can fly and wears underwear over his pants it doesn't mean they are stealing superman's idea?
    2-. A review is supposed to tell people what a product offers; What's inside, who can enjoy it... things like that. For example, I could say "50 Shades of Grey is a book full of sh*tty p*rn nobody with proper mental health could enjoy.", BUT, it doesn't mean there aren't going to be 16 year-old girls reading and enjoying it.

    If you think a book really sucks, that's ok, but you shouldn't go there spreading negative criticism. That's cheap. Constructivism is better and something authors appreciate.
    What would Cassandra and Holly think of your blog if they ever read this? Hope it's not your case.