A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Since this is a school of magic, readers can make obvious comparisons with other books about magic. Here there are no wands, and the mages work to control the elements: earth, water, fire, and air.
For the series so far, the underlying struggle is good vs. evil, in the world and within individuals. Loyalty and bravery, acceptance, and friendship all are important themes. Book 3 explores how people who want power can be dangerous and keeping big secrets just leads to having to keep even more secrets.
Positive Role Models
The three main characters, Callum, Tamara, and Aaron, decide to trust each other and work together, despite some signs that one of them may be conspiring against the others. Almost universally in kid books the adults say they'll handle problems and the kids always think they know better. Callum and friends thwart authority and decide to handle dangerous situations themselves, repeatedly, without real punishment from adults, which leads to tragedy.
Violence & Scariness
Spoiler alert: a major character dies. Plus, a girl is found murdered, dagger in her back, floating in the water. A corpse is brought back to life. A chandelier nearly crushes students, an air elemental with teeth attacks, a student falls and breaks a leg, crazed animals attack -- including bears that maul and get sliced with a dagger, and people are knocked out magically with a "soul touch." Talk of the severed head Call brought back to the Magisterium the year before and murder committed by mages a generation ago, one of whom may have his soul residing in Callum and may be influencing his magic and decisions.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A teen couple "sucks face" often. The main character is both jealous and thinks it's gross.
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Products & Purchases
A few quick mentions of fancy car brands and Brooks Brothers suits.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Bronze Key is the third book in the Magisterium series by accomplished fantasy writers Holly Black (Doll Bones) and Cassandra Clare (City of Bones). Both often write for a teen audience, but this series about a magic school is aimed at tweens. After the main character delivered a severed head to the mages at his magic school in Book 2, readers may be expecting more jarring violence. They get it here with -- spoiler alert -- an unexpected death. Also, the students reanimate a corpse enough to talk to it after it shows up floating in water with a dagger in its back. A chandelier nearly crushes students, an air elemental with teeth attacks, a student falls and breaks a leg, crazed animals attack -- including bears that maul and get sliced with a dagger -- and people are knocked out magically with a "soul touch." While Callum and friends work to find out who's trying to hurt Callum, they put themselves in danger repeatedly, usually against the wishes of their teachers, and pay a serious price for it in the end.
Is It Any Good?
The third in this team-written series continues to suffer from the same lack of cohesion and flow -- but, just like the others, it delivers a powerful finish. The Bronze Key meanders like the underground halls of the Magisterium, not quite developing secondary characters or a sense of rhythm of the life of the school; readers see one test, a few trips to the cafeteria, and two or three scenes of magical training, making it feel like less than a real school experience.
Despite that: Wow! What a surprising finish. Even readers who may have felt cheated along the way will be picking up Book 4, because they won't believe what they just read. Authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare have delivered their A game before in other series, so here's hoping the new, shocking developments will breathe life into future installments.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.