Mild spoilers follow.
I did not enjoy the Iron Trial. For me, it really all comes down to a simple lack of sophistication – in plot, characters, setting, and yes, story. It was a very pedestrian book full of elements we’ve read about often before, using characters that were caricatures who did things that were either illogical or pointless, and a plot that had to rely on wild coincidences or overly convoluted but ultimately pointless contrivances in order to propel the story forward. Very little succeeded and I really had to wonder at what age a reader would have to be in order to overlook the simplicity of the set up.
Story: Callum’s father has warned him how dangerous magic is to use (yet never tells him WHY), and given him strict orders not to use his magic or the Magisterium will take him away. So Callum uses his magic and the Magisterium requires him to come in and take a test to enter their magic school. Callum’s father tells him it is life and death that he fail purposely (without telling him WHY). Callum makes a lot of mistakes on the test by accident, which cause him to wildly succeed and become the apprentice of the head magician (read Dumbledore). But there is an evil magician too (read: Voldemort) and he is connected to Callum in some way (read: Harry Potter’s scar). Will Callum survive the first year of the school with his two new friends (read: Hermione and Ron)? Spoiler: Probably.
So yes, this is a very derivative story. I wouldn’t have minded so much if it was done well. But this is almost a textbook example of very poor writing in every sense of the word. Yet again, we have a father who tells his son nothing despite what should be a hugely critical need to make his son understand what’s at stake. And why doesn’t he tell him? Well, obviously so there is a mystery to the reader and not because it might actually help his son surive into adulthood.
Cue the trials. Callum makes ‘mistakes’ that ‘accidentally’ show off just how talented he is at magic. At one point, it was almost laughable to see what ‘clever’ way the authors were going to find to show off Callum’s latent talent in Magic despite his supposedly trying to fail. Because clearly all the magisterium magicians are idiots who couldn’t tell someone was talented unless someone WILDLY failed the exam in ways that could only scream, “super talented boy!!”. Add in ‘lessons’ in the vein of “wax on, wax off” Karate Kid and you get the idea of the level of creativity here.
Continuing the idiocy, no one suspects Callum’s power despite the unique history of his father and the situation in which Callum was saved from death (outlined in the prologue). Of course, his father knew and decided that hiding in plain site and not telling his son a thing was the best way to protect him from the magisterium and the evil magician. Yeah, smart, huh?! Add in a strained relationship that makes no sense considering what the father did to save the child and the whole big ‘reveal’ at the end put into perspective just how poorly written the whole book ended up being.
The characters were very two dimensional, each acting (or overreacting) in very simplistic and obvious ways. There are no nuances whatsoever in the characters – from cackling (but very stupid) evil to bumbling cluelessness in adults to abject stupidity in teens. I wanted to hit my head on a table quite a bit while reading this story.
So no, there is nothing new here. This mediocre retelling of Harry Potter fails in nearly every way. As such, I will not be following the series. Reviewed from an ARC.