Tag Archives: alternate reality

Wizards in Training

by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Iron Trial  (book one of the Magesterium) by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black

Scholastic Press (September 9, 2014) Grades 3-7, 304 pgs (hardback)

I was searching for a few new books to recommend to our library when I came across a junior fiction book with an eye catching cover.  I honestly did not recognize the authors, it was the cover that made me want to read this.  This is a great start to a new middle grade fiction story featuring three characters, two boys and a girl.  Our main character is Callum Hunt a young boy who just received his invitation to test for a spot in the Magesterium, or school for magicians.

This is a world filled with magicians and magical creatures, but the magical world and the mundane stay largely out of each others way.  Callum Hunt has leg that was broken when he was young and never healed properly.  He knows he has magic, as does his Father, but Callum is terrified of this power.  His Mother was killed because of it, and his Dad wants to make sure Callum is not dragged to the Magesterium, a school for wizards deep underground, and killed as well.  Callum and his father come up with a plan to keep him out of the school, but when everything they try goes wrong it is up to Callum to figure out who he wants to become.

This is a book series worth adding to your collection.  The characters are nice but not perfect.  Callum is not an all powerful, super athletic genius, and neither are his two friends Tamara and Drew.  Call is a boy with a crippled leg and a bad temper, who famously disrupted a town May Day Parade because he wanted to rescue some rats from a pet store.  There are prophesies, mushroom food, a water taxi ride that just might kill you, chaos filled enemies, and a school built into a cave.

Yes I know, I know, some of you Potter fans out there are going “But isn’t that Harry Potter’s story? Young magician is invited to school?”  Well No.  In fact, I can name several classic fantasy novels that used the same basic premise that were written years before Ms. Rowling ever took her young wizard goes to school stories to print.  And because I have read a lot of fantasy, especially about young boys who come into their power and end up at a school (good and bad) I can say that this is a great example of that genre.

Please note to parents, this is a violent story, and while no one expressly dies “on scene” a lot of characters are bloodied.  There is a lot of risk taking behavior, and bullying without consequences.  Some themes are closer to Young Adult than Junior Fiction, so you might reserve this book for older or more mature readers.  Do not read this expecting a junior Mortal Instruments.  It is closer to Holly Black’s Spiderwick chronicles or Doll Bones (see post on that book ) in tone and scare factor.  Not quite steam punk, not quite high fantasy, but a fun start to a new series.

A Raven’s Tail….


Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle
by  George Hagen
Schwartz & Wade, August 26, 2014
Grades 4-7 (9-12 years old), 384 pgs (hardcover)

This is a Netgalley review.

So up pops a notice in my inbox of another book, “please read this and review”. I looked at the cover and said cool, and uploaded it immediately. This is a terrific Junior Fiction middle grade story with just the right amount of horror and adventure without being overly complex or cerebral. There are many main characters, but the central figure is the boy Gabriel and a young raven named Paladin. Their quest? To find Gabriel’s Dad who mysteriously disappeared three years ago. The two young girls who assist Gabriel are also wonderful and quirky. Abby, the girl who could be Pippi Longstocking’s granddaughter, and the violin playing Pamela who’s mother could turn milk sour by looking at it. The last child is the hulking bully Somes, portrayed as a misunderstood child from a broken home. (see parental note below) 

The message of this story is to do what is right not what is easy, and that everyone deserves a second chance (even yourself). There are moments of hilarity (the dancing desk is my favorite) and the riddles are good for this age group, I asked my kids several and it was fun watching them try to figure it out. The little drips of ancient Norse mythology woven through the book were cleverly done. Though I suspect most references will fly right over the heads of the intended target audience. (And No there is no Thor, or hammer, But there are dwarves, a cursed bit of jewelry, and the two ravens Munin and Hugin.) This is part of a series but unlike most offerings right now is a self contained story, there is no cliffhanging ending, though there are still mysteries left to solve for future books.

Note to parents, there is a bully in this who turns out to have an abusive father and he does hit Somes multiple times. I get a little nervous when a bully, who does hurt and target Gabriel, is treated as a misunderstood child with a bad past as if that excuses his behavior, but this is a book about second chances so turning the other cheek in this case works. And Somes is redeemed in the end. There are a lot of birds that are killed and some birds eat their humans which is described in detail. The settings are universally dark (the prison cells for the birds in Aviopolis gave me the shivers). But other than being aware that it can be dark this is a great Fall or Halloween read.

This book is scheduled to be released just in time for school to start and I can’t wait to introduce our students to this wonderful group of characters.