The Iron Trial by Holly Black
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Overall, this was a good book, but I had a few quibbles, but they did majorly affect my rating in a not-so good way. Let's talk about the bad first.
Callum's behavior was pretty reprehensible. He stole and damaged property and never had to face the wrongness of most of his actions. I'm not trying to be moralistic here, but those actions made me think less of him. I almost didn't want to finish the book. In light of later revelations, it felt even more manipulative to have him committing not so minor infringements. I feel that books for young readers don't have to be ethics primers, but honestly there are consequences when we do wrong. When books for younger readers overlook that, it makes me feel uneasy inside. And with all honestly, this reader was already rooting for Callum to grow in character over the course of the book. I'm not sure he did in crucial ways. There are some major plot spoilers that I can't go into, but even in light of the story direction, I wasn't okay with that.
The ending was too abrupt and clearly was a sequel bait. I don't like the tendency to create series that aren't terribly self-contained. I feel that it's better to write a story that feels complete even if I don't continue the series. I know that this is probably a minor thing for other readers, but it's increasingly becoming an issue for me.
While I wasn't enamored of the narrator, it didn't affect my rating that much. He wasn't terrible, just a little more flat than I liked.
What I loved;
*I felt that the story did keep me guessing. There were some reversals that I seriously didn't expect and kudos to the authors for that.
*The Magisterium is beautifully described and some aspects felt very unique. I loved how the food source is based on things that might grow underground, but they have tastes that you wouldn't attribute to something like dried lichen or mushrooms. The skills tests were fun.
*The developing friendship between Callum and his fellow students in his cohort. It reminded me of my time in professional school and how you tend to look to people in your class as a support system.
*I loved the ethnic/racial diversity. It's so easy to do it and have it be a normal part of the story. There was no reason for everyone of the students to be white/European, and I was glad that the authors didn't go that way with the story.
*The dark aspects of the story appealed. I like that middle grade/juvenile fiction can be done well with serious tension and thrills without assuming younger readers can't handle it.
*The pet wolf Havoc. I was so, so in love. I want!
I'm going to give this 3.5 stars. I imagine some would rate it higher, but with the issues versus the kudos, I think it's a very fair rating.
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