The Iron Trial: Magisterium, Book 1

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Iron Trial: Magisterium, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Intriguing twist on magic-school tale lacks polish.

Parents say

age 7+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 8 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

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. 

Positive Messages

The underlying struggle is good vs. evil, in the world and within individuals. Loyalty and bravery, acceptance, and friendship all are important themes. The need for acceptance wins out over doing the right thing.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Callum struggles to do the right thing. Often his need for acceptance and friendship wins out. He keeps many secrets and makes some rash decisions. Still, he's loyal to his new friends and works hard to find his own way in the world. Aaron is the reluctant hero figure who puts his friends above himself. Tamara is talented, smart, and not afraid to speak her mind. 


One 12-year-old dies in a climactic scene through magical means, and other kids get minor injuries, including a few twisted or broken ankles and some burns. Wolves attack, and there's a school fistfight. There are mentions of past magical wars, including one with a massacre of women and children that killed Callum's mother and left him with permanent damage to one leg; he limps heavily and complains of pain often. Aaron mentions his mother's death when he was young. There's a story of one mage accidently killing his brother and another powerful mage dying in battle.


A few quick mentions: Rolls Royce, Lay's chips, Star Wars.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Two mentions that Callum's Dad's clothes always smelled of pipe smoke.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Iron Trial is the first 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. It doesn't get very violent until near the climax with the death of one 12-year-old boy by magical means. Other injuries are mild; the main character, Callum, breaks his ankle, and mages suffer magical burns. However, there are many mentions of a massacre that killed women and children, including Callum's mother, and that left infant Callum with a painful, lifelong leg injury. Callum is a character who's loyal to his friends but makes a lot of mistakes; often his need for acceptance wins out over doing the right thing.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byabbacus January 17, 2016

Great start to a series that can only get better!

I'm not going to go into detail about this book, but overall I thought it was really good! Cassie Clare is my favorite author so of course I'm going t... Continue reading
Parent of a 8-year-old Written bymcfaddy September 10, 2019

Great series of books!

I've read the series and I'd be inclined to say there's a bit of violence and things that children below 8 probably wouldn't understand. I t... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byihugturtles January 9, 2021

Kind of like Harry Potter

I like this book a lot! I'm planning to read the second book. I've read Harry Potter before and could see the similarity, but I couldn't finish... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byBblobby July 6, 2019

Interesting, I've read this so many times!

I read this book first in maybe 4th grade. I bought it, brought it home, and I think I finished it in one sitting. It's a fairly easy read, and I enjoy i... Continue reading

What's the story?

It's test day for magically inclined 12-year-olds at the Magisterium, and Callum's Dad is desperate for him to fail. Despite getting the lowest possible score in every trial, he's still selected by the school's top mage, Master Rufus. So off to school he goes, while his father begs him to run away before he learns too much. He thinks magic is dangerous and the school puts kids in even greater danger. Call's father gave up magic years ago after his wife died in a massacre and infant Call permanently and painfully injured his leg. Call's severe limp has always made him an outsider, but at the school he finally feels as if he belongs. He's more torn about running away as the days go by and even more so when he intercepts a letter from his father to Master Rufus begging him to bind his magic before the end of the year, taking away all Call's magic abilities and ostracizing him from his new friends forever.

Is it any good?

With fantastic fantasy authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare working together, readers' eyes will light up with excitement as they think, "This is gonna be good!" Yes, of course the ideas are there. Magic school gets a darker makeover with some Eastern philosophy mixed in, and the main character is not who he seems -- or is he? And the labyrinthine cave setting is pretty cool. 

So the idea meetings went really well. But the careful execution isn't there. This magical world is hastily explained and confusing, and the plots aren't carefully laid out -- often readers stumble upon what's supposed to be a nail-biting scene without any building of tension beforehand. For writers this good, this doesn't feel like the final draft. Here's hoping Book 2 gets the spit and polish it needs to keep loyal readers engaged.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about magic schools of thought. How is the elemental magic in The Iron Trial different from the magic at Hogwarts? Or the magic in the Septimus Heap series? Which do you prefer?

  • What made you pick up this series? Was it the big-name fantasy authors? Will you keep reading the other books?

  • What do you think will happen to Callum? Would you have made the same big decision he did at the end of the book? If not, do you understand why he chose the way he did?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love magic and fantasy

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