Authors: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Length: 304 pages
From NEW YORK TIMES bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare comes a riveting new series that defies what you think you know about the world of magic.
From two bestselling superstars, a dazzling and magical middle-grade collaboration centering on the students of the Magisterium, an academy for those with a propensity toward magic. In this first book, a new student comes to the Magisterium against his will -- is it because he is destined to be a powerful magician, or is the truth more twisted than that? It's a journey that will thrill you, surprise you, and make you wonder about the clear-cut distinction usually made between good and evil.
Protagonist: Callum Hunt, often referred to in the book as "Call" (which by the way I really hated that spelling for his nickname, what's wrong with Cal? It's more commonly used and a lot less confusing) has been told his entire life, by his father, that the Magisterium, the school that teaches mages how to control and expand their elemental abilities, will lead to his death. So during the Iron Trial, the test that decides if you have the required amount of magic to be accepted into the Magisterium, he tries his hardest not to try, unfortunately his unrestrained magic comes out and he finds himself in the last place he wants to be. However while in the Magisterium he finds that it's not as bad as he thinks. Callum is a very complex character, as the authors have said, he bares all the markers for a typical Middle-Grade fantasy hero, however his destiny may not be what you think at first. I liked Callum's growth through the book, it felt real and his experiences at the Magisterium, while tiresome and grueling at times, were exciting to watch and thrilling to read.
World-Building: So, I have a few problems with the world-building, and it's not the whole "This sounds like Harry Potter" that everyone on Goodreads seems to be saying. First is the name of the main antagonist, "The Enemy of Death" or "The Enemy" for short. Now, that's all ominous and everything, but it's also way too cheesy to be taken seriously. Also, when we meet some of his followers they also refer to him as "The Enemy" which is really confusing as he is not their enemy and I have to remember what his full title is, but it still feels extremely weird for his followers to refer to him as "The Enemy" rather than something more ambiguous or more flattering like "The Master." All that aside however, while there are some places that I felt needed a bit more expansion or description, the world was fairly solid and was a joy to explore.
Predictability: So with the authors saying that this book was unpredictable I had my guard up, but still my normal foreshadowing sifter kicked in and at times I forgot that this was an unpredictable or unconventional fantasy story so I would often find myself surprised by the things that happened and at times felt like I was reading another side to the story I would typically be reading. The ending though was the most surprising of them all.
Ending: So once I got to towards the end I was reading what I had thought was a fairly normal and interesting ending, then out of no where, BAM! A huge twist materializes that changes the game so much that even though it wasn't a cliffhanger it still made me ache to read the next book as soon as possible. The actually ending was rather plateaued and expected but did nothing to stifle the curiosity that I feel for where the next book may lead.
Is it a Harry Potter Rip-Off?: So I had to do a section like this for my review of City of Bones as well, because some people can't seem to distance Cassandra Clare's mainstream work from her time as a Harry Potter fan fiction writer. Going into this I knew what people were calling it and from the description the only parallels I saw were that it was a Middle Grade book about magic, as if Harry Potter is the only series to fall under that in existence. So going in I was if anything biased on the side of the authors. That being said I did see a few too many parallels to Harry Potter within it's pages. They were more like small plot elements and classic tropes, however it was the sheer amount that is shared between the two that bothered me. So I thought about it for a while and remembered something I had learned in my story writing class, something about "The Hero's Journey." My story writing class had used Harry Potter as a prime example of the hero's journey and I realized that even if the authors used the Harry Potter series as inspiration, what came out of it was a huge twist on the various stages of "The Hero's Journey" So long story short, I do not under any circumstances believe this to be in any way a rip-off of the Harry Potter series.
So after careful thought and consideration I'm giving this book 4.5 stars. It's a powerful and epic story, but there were a few things I couldn't get past. In addition to what I stated above this book moved a bit slow at times and I felt that Callum's Master took a bit too much of a "wax on, wax off" approach to his teaching instead of after a while teaching more up front and direct elemental techniques.
P.S. PLEASE READ!!! I'm currently hosting a giveaway for an ARC of this book SIGNED by BOTH its authors. The giveaway is going until the end of the day on the 11th of August 2014, and yes it IS INTERNATIONAL!!!