Callum has been told all his life NEVER to do magic. Never to do magic, and to fail the test to enter the Magisterium, the school where students with magical potential learn to become mages. Yet Callum can’t even do that right- even though he screws up the tests he’s admitted into the Iron Trials. Warned by his father to fail the Trials or else horrible things will happen to him at the hands of the Magisterium- buried alive in the caves, lost forever wandering, or worse. Yet Callum can’t help but wonder what would happen if maybe his future is lying within the twisted depths of the Magisterium… and what everyone seems to be hiding from him.
I adored the writing, the vivid descriptions and the emotions that come from not only Callum and his father, but from secondary characters as well. You can feel what Callum’s mother was feeling, and what Callum’s school enemies feel for him right off the page, which is unusual in books of fantasy. The complex portrayals add to the depth and layers of the book, and make readers engage that much more easily into the world Black and Clare are building. The Magisterium is sharply drawn, and readers will love wandering around the caves as much as they love Hogwarts.
I really enjoyed the fact that Callum and his other two apprentices are diverse, along with his classmates in their Iron Trial. There are no stereotypes, no tokens; everything blends together naturally and makes the story that much more important. Black and Clare also show how important the lessons that Callum and his fellow apprentices struggle through are, and while the others in their class year may be doing flashier and more exciting things, their lessons prove to be more valuable in the long run.
People will compare this series to Harry Potter, and it actually doesn’t deserve it. It’s definitely a way to sell it to readers; however, Callum and the Magisterium world are completely different, with different beliefs in magic and an entirely different set of circumstances that make things more exciting to readers.
There are also some things that pulled me out of the book, more of a break that had me questioning things than an actual break in disbelief. Something that disappeared and no one knew where it went, for example; another occurrence where something appeared but no one took notice.
The last third of the book was my OMG I HAVE TO FINISH moment of the book. You will not be able to put it down for the twists and turns within, and when you think you have it figured out, you are completely wrong. Then it ends, and you have to wonder where Black and Clare are going to go from here.
I would have no problems putting this in a juvenile collection in a public library, or for readers 12 and older. There is magic and magical action/violence, and there is death.