I felt a lot like saying "Aaaarrrggghhhhh" when I was reading The Iron Trial by Cassandra Claire and Holly Black for two reasons.
1) I was looking forward to it because I adore Holly Black.
2) It was so derivative.
Librarian Confession Time: I have not read Harry Potter. I'm okay with that. However, it's such a pervasive part of our culture--especially book culture--that I'm pretty familiar with the gist of it and some of the terms and characters and so forth. I know Hedwig is the owl and I know about the Sorting Hat and all that jazz. I also know that there was a big brouhaha over Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series. Evidently, Clare had been active on Harry Potter fanfic boards and had posted a fanfic that seems to have turned into Mortal Instruments. After finishing The Iron Trial, I read about this a bit more online and it was seriously falling down the rabbit hole. I read pages and pages of detailed comparisons with side-by-side quotations of Clare's work and another author's work. However, since I am not a really invested Harry Potter fan (no slash fanfic for me EVER, please and thank you), I assume that J.K. Rowling would have done something about the Mortal Instruments series if she felt it were really blatant plagiarism, and I was willing to give Cassie Clare a try (although honestly, she is milking that cow until its udders shrivel up and die).
And then I read The Iron Trial, and I said, "Oh."
Wait, let me back up a teensy bit. I realize that coming-of-age stories, outsider-becomes-hero stories, boarding school stories, and The Chosen One stories were done long before Rowling ever wrote Harry Potter, and they will continue to be written. Other reviewers cited Percy Jackson as an example of this. It does have that formula of Chosen One + feisty girl + fun guy, but it's so much fun that HP never even crossed my mind.
In The Iron Trial, Callum (who is irritatingly referred to as "Call" and not "Cal" during the entire book, which made for some awkward sentences) knows that he has special abilities. His father's been warning him about this all his life. All he has to do is fail the test to get into the Magisterium (that's Mage school, for all you muggles (oops, wrong series)) and life will be great! Except even though Call fails all the tests, he still gets in (not a spoiler, obviously, because that's what the book is about) AND gets chosen as one of the best teacher's students. Unfortunately, this means he has to work as a team with snooty Tamara and popular dude Aaron, plus deal with the jerkwaddery of legacy student Jasper (who is so over-the-top nasty that things get ridiculous).
There's ... stuff ... that goes on. Like Call's leg doesn't work properly, and it pains him a lot, so he feels left out. Call also makes Very Stupid Decisions that go against the rules and then he decides not to tell anybody anything because he can be his own person (cue dramatic theme music) and become whomever he wishes to become.
People more well-versed in the Potterverse could probably pick out loads of similarities between this book and Potter--I mean, even I got the basic similarities.
Actually, I was most disappointed by the lack of Holly Black's voice in this. She generally does dark and quirky, and the majority of this book doesn't approach dark or quirky. Even Doll Bones, her middle grade book, was still really creepy. This is not creepy. Or dark. Or snarky. It's not dangerous or rough or real.
For kiddos who eat up quest stories and fantasy, this might be a great selection. However, as an adult reader, I can't recommend it.
I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.