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Magisterium - The Iron Trial Review


The sole survivor of a massacre when he was a baby, Callum Hunt grows up taught by his father that magic is dangerous and mages cannot be trusted. Despite his best efforts to be rejected, he is selected to study at the Magisterium, the school of magic where fledgling mages are taught to control their power. While learning how to master elemental forces, he also discovers a mystery surrounding his very existence.

The first entry in a new series, The Iron Trial takes place in the modern day, but also creates a world of magic largely unseen by everyday people. As Callum (“Call”) has grown up largely unaware of how this world operates, we learn of its intricacies at the same pace that he does. After being partnered with Aaron, a boy tight-lipped about his past, and Tamara, a girl from a successful family of mages and under pressure to succeed, the three of them learn the practical applications of magic and navigate the cavernous mountain labyrinth that will be their home for the next five years. The importance of friendship is a big theme and as Aaron and Tamara become two of the only real pals Call has ever had, he begins to see that life has more to offer than anger at the hand it has dealt him.

The unseen series antagonist, the Enemy of Death, is a master of chaos, the destructive and dangerous fifth form of magic (“chaos wants to devour”) that only an exceptionally rare few have the ability to wield. The instigator of the previous Mage War and responsible for the massacre that killed Call’s mother, the Enemy and his concealed armies of possessed humans, manipulated animals and controlled elementals (collectively known as the Chaos-ridden) remain a constant and whispered threat, despite the shaky peace treaty that remains in place.

It’s clear from the start that there is a Big Secret About Call, but in the best tradition of cryptic allusions nobody comes out and says exactly what it actually is (Call’s father unfortunately deemed it unnecessary to let him know, or drop so much as the slightest clue). You’ll likely guess what it is, even if the book doesn’t adequately explain how such a thing could come to be, and it poses interesting questions about how Call’s character will subsequently develop.

Although its basic story elements are rather familiar – a power trio of central characters; a shadowy and nebulous enemy; a hidden secret; an arrogant and obnoxious classmate; an infatuated girl – The Iron Trial is merely a setup and introduction, and tacitly promises to take subsequent instalments of the Magisterium series in a more complex and philosophical direction, discussing things like the nature of evil, fate versus free will, atonement for past mistakes, and how our choices as young people shape the adults we eventually become.

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