The Bronze Key by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Bronze Key, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, was published in 2016 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to The Copper Gauntlet.

Students at the Magisterium are supposed to be safe. Under the watchful eyes of the mages, they are taught to use magic to bring order to a chaotic world. But now the chaos is fighting back. Call, Tamara, and Aaron should be worrying about things like pop quizzes and magic contests. Instead, after the shocking death of one of their classmates, they must track down a sinister killer…and risk their own lives in the process. As Call, Tamara, and Aaron discover, magic can only be as good as the person who wields it. In evil hands, it has the capacity to do immeasurable harm—unless it is stopped in time.

Rating: 3/5

The Bronze Key continues the tradition of the Magisterium books failing to impress me, although I will acknowledge that Black and Clare did some gutsy things with their characters in this one. It’s too bad the villain was a complete washout and tremendously obvious, but Aaron, Call, and Tamara had some interesting things happen to them which reminded me of some of the more interesting plot twists in The Iron Trial. The problem is that I don’t feel as if Black and Clare know how to adequately handle those plot twists. I definitely feel a disconnect between the world and what I know about it, as if there’s something that the authors didn’t explain or didn’t explain well enough.

For example, are we supposed to expect these books to take place within the course of a year? The Copper Gauntlet did not feel that way, and neither does The Bronze Key. The fact that there are no celebrations of holidays doesn’t help, either. I think part of the reason the books feel a little disjointed to me is that there is so much time missing between the books; The Bronze Key takes place only over a couple of months, but is the next book, presumably about the fourth year, going to skip a whole ten months? That’s what it felt like going into this book, that a few months had been skipped between The Copper Gauntlet and The Bronze Key. That’s not always a bad thing, but it just seems a little sloppy to me, as if the plot can’t keep up with the world and so there’s all this missing time that makes everything seem disconnected.

However, despite all my complaints and comments about its mediocrity, the one thing The Bronze Key did well was make me want to know what happens next. Everything happened pretty quickly and there are still some aspects of the ending that I’m not sure of (did the teachers already know that Call was Constantine, or did they think Alma was lying until Call confirmed it? If they already knew, why lock him up now? If they didn’t, why was there even the feeling they did already know, which smacks of bad writing?), but it did intrigue me to the point where I’ll probably pick up the next book. And let’s face, I’m already three books in—I’m too invested in the series to stop now. Which I suppose means that the Magisterium can’t be all that bad if it keeps me reading.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

The door opened; there were footsteps. Call whirled, but it wasn’t Celia standing there. It was Tamara and Aaron.

“What are you doing in the Trophy Room?” Tamara asked, frowning. “Are you okay?”

Aaron looked around, puzzled. “Are you hiding in here?”

Call was entirely sure that nothing like this—being stood up and humiliated—had ever happened to Aaron. He was doubly sure nothing like this had happened to Tamara.

You can buy this here:

The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Copper Gauntlet, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, was published in 2015 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to The Iron Trial.

Spoilers for The Iron Trial.

Callum Hunt’s summer break isn’t like other kids’. His closest companion is a Chaos-ridden wolf, Havoc. His father suspects him of being secretly evil. And, of course, most kids aren’t heading back to the magical world of the Magisterium in the fall. It’s not easy for Call…and it gets even harder after he checks out his basement and discovers that his dad might be trying to destroy both him and Havoc. Call escapes to the Magisterium—but things only intensify there. The Alkahest—a copper gauntlet capable of separating certain magicians from their magic—has been stolen. And in their search to discover the culprit, Call and his friends Aaron and Tamara awaken the attention of some very dangerous foes—and get closer to an even more dangerous truth.

First off, apologies for not posting yesterday. I was very, very busy. I will post tomorrow so that I still get in my 3 posts a week.

My overall impression of The Copper Gauntlet is not a particularly good one, although I certainly liked some parts of it. Black and Clare stepped back from the “Harry Potter magical school” aspect of the book and had most of the second half be an extended road trip to chase down the baddie, so in that respect they ventured away from the typical “magical school” tropes. I’m still not overly impressed with their worldbuilding, though, and as with The Iron Trial, The Copper Gauntlet is formulaic and obvious in such a way that it’s a little annoying to read.

I’m probably most upset that Callum, who was looking to be almost refreshingly ordinary despite his secret, gets a sort of “upgrade” into Super Special Protagonist in this book. I’m really tired of Super Special Protagonists and I was really looking forward to Mostly Ordinary Protagonist with Super Special Friend, so that part of Callum’s characterization was disappointing to me.

I found The Iron Trial interesting despite its Harry Potter similarities; however, even though The Copper Gauntlet strives to step away from that, I found it more boring and slightly annoying. I’m less interested in picking up the next book in the series. The Copper Gauntlet is decent, but it’s an average MG novel that screams “average MG novel” with every word.

I’m also not fond of how many times the phrase “Chaos-ridden wolf” was used to describe Havoc. Too many times.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Aaron was breathing hard. His face looked pale, with a hectic flush on his cheeks as though from illness. He didn’t look like someone who’d just done a trick. He looked like someone who’d almost gotten his friend’s mother eaten.

Call turned to Tamara. “What was that?”

Her eyes sparkled. “What do you mean? He did a great job!”

“He could have been killed!” Call hissed at her, stopping himself from adding that her mom could probably have been killed, too. Aaron was on his feet now, pushing his way through the crowd toward them. He wasn’t making very fast progress, since everyone seemed to want to move closer to touch him and congratulate him and pat him on the back.

Tamara scoffed. “It was just a party trick, Call. All the other mages were standing by. They would have interfered if anything had gone wrong.”

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The Iron Trial: Shades Of Harry Potter

The Iron Trial is written by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. It was published in 2014 by Scholastic.

Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial. Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail. All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him. So he tries his best to do his worst—and fails at failing. Now the Magisterium awaits him. It’s a place that’s both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future. The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come.

There are shades of Harry Potter throughout this book, especially the “magic school” bit, as well as shades of Avatar: The Last Airbender with the elemental magic, but even though nothing they use is really new, Black and Clare manage to give it a fresh twist. I wish that we had gotten to see more of the world, but perhaps that will come later on in the series.

I went into the book thinking I knew how it was going to end, and I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out differently. However, there is very little of any sort of continuing plot in this book, as it is mainly set-up and more involved with character development, so I was left wondering what could possibly be in four more books. What I thought would have been more interesting is if Black and Clare had held off on the big plot reveal for another book, because right now it feels as if they revealed their hand too early. Like I said, I have no idea why they need four more books, unless they just wanted one for each school year (like Harry Potter…sigh).

I’m glad that Jasper ends up not so much of the school rival as he starts out. Rivals/antagonists like that serve to drive the plot/character development, but the trope as a whole is really overused, especially in school stories, and I’m glad that Jasper isn’t as much of a Draco Malfoy as he appears.

Also overused is the loner protagonist who thinks everybody hates him. At least Black and Clare gave him a good reason to think that way.

The book intrigued me enough to read the next one when it comes out, but I hope Black and Clare improve on worldbuilding and use of tropes.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“So send me home,” he burst out. “If you just took me because you don’t feel like one of the other mages should have to teach me, send me home.”

Rufus shook his head. “You still don’t understand,” he said. “Uncontrolled magic like yours is a danger. Sending you home to your small town would be the equivalent of dropping a bomb on them. But make no mistake, Callum. If you persist in disobedience, if you refuse to learn to control your magic, then I will send you home. But I will bind your magic first.”

Overall Review:

The Iron Trial, although relying a little too much on old tropes like the magical school, the rival, elemental magic, and the self-contained, set-up plot of a first book in a series, still builds a nice world (what we see of it), has memorable characters, and promises exciting things to come. I do wish that Clare & Black had saved the big twist until later on in the series, as I feel it would have had more punch and right now I can’t really see where the series is going.

You can buy this here: The Iron Trial (Book One of Magisterium)