This book was the opposite of a good time, I’m (kind of) sorry to say. I’ve had a mostly unhappy relationship with Cassie Clare’s books post City of Glass but Holly Black’s stuff was fun as well as pretty clever. So when I saw this on NetGalley I thought ‘what the hell’ and went ahead and requested it. I have…regrets.
The Iron Trial is a wildly original story that involves magically gifted children entering into a school for the magically gifted. Our three main characters are made up of a quirky band of three misfits, two of whom I’m sure you’ll never think were based on other, more famous characters. So there’s Callum, the kid who had no idea he was even magical but bears scars(!) from an ~accident~, and a girl with something to prove. But whatever, right? Fantasy is full of instances where authors have ‘borrowed’ elements from other works, so it’s totally not a big deal. Oh but then obviously, because novels need conflict, the book then introduces us to ‘The Enemy of Death’, who as you may guess is an evil dude obsessed with conquering death. The Enemy has many loyal followers, some out in the open and others in hiding, waiting for their master to return. And the book continues on in this tiresome vein, at some points walking a very fine line between ‘inspiration’ and ‘outright plagiarism’.
Maybe this wouldn’t bother me so much if I didn’t love Harry Potter as much as I do but let’s be honest here, this book reads like fanfiction. I could sit here and point out everything that has been lifted from the original series and given a new name in this one but I’ll stick to two things, because when I finished the book these were the two that stuck out in my mind and annoyed me for days afterwards. So I’ve already explained that the Iron Trial takes place in a magical school setting but there is one major difference between it and Harry Potter in this respect: whereas Hogwarts sent out letters to ALL children of magical ability without exception and had scholarship funds for children from poor income households, the Magisterium requires all potential students to undergo a stringent testing before being admitted. Because apparently the inclusivity was just too much. You have to be considered ~good~ enough for an education, because it’s a privilege as opposed to a fundamental right. And the other thing: food in the Magisterium is basically flavoured lichen (I just…what) that continues to be lichen even though it’s flavoured to taste like food. So what I got from this is that food is an exception to magic…much like in Harry Potter, wherein food is one of the five exceptions of Elemental Transfiguration. I don’t like it when my intelligence is undermined, and adding in tiny details that the authors were clearly hoping no-one would notice (remember, more like) or care about speaks volumes to me about what they think of their readership.
Now I don’t actually know if Holly Black & Cassie Clare were consciously aware of what they were doing but it is honestly impossible not to see the obvious similarities between Harry Potter and this new series of theirs. And what really annoyed me was the shout-out to the various authors and series they said they’d been ‘inspired’ by in the Acknowledgements. Because who even are you trying to kid here, people. I can put up with a lot but this is just too much. If I wanted to read Harry Potter, you guys, I’d get my precious off my bookshelves and read them, not a subpar remake of the original.