My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have to admit that I went into reading this book with high expectations. I already love Holly Black. The White Cat series is one I am constantly recommending to students, and I absolutely loved “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.” I also very much enjoyed the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, at least once I got into the first book (it took me a little while). Putting the two of them together, it turns out, was a match made in heaven.
Callum Hunt, a boy with a permanently damaged leg, sarcastic wit, and no real friends, has been told by his father his whole life that magic — which was responsible for his mother’s death — is evil, and that the magisterium, where they train mages, is somewhere he should try his hardest never to enter, because if he does, he is sure to die horribly. And yet despite trying his absolute hardest to fail the Iron Trial, where mages measure the magical potential of candidates and choose which ones will enter the magisterium, Call gets chosen. And not only does he get chosen, but he gets chosen by the most powerful mage in the Magisterium. Although things are bumpy for Call all along the way, it turns out that the Magisterium is good for Call. He finally has friends, and although the food is weird (lichen pizzas and weird purple goop!) and he gets set to sifting sand one grain at a time for weeks on end, he’s actually mastering his magic and doing well.
Through all of it, however, there is a lingering mystery. Call’s mother died horribly in a war between the mages of the Magisterium and the “Enemy of Death”, a rogue mage who has the power to control chaos magic who wants to conquer death and live forever, and who massacred an entire cave full of mostly defenseless women, children, and old people, leaving only baby Call alive. Scratched into the ice as his mother’s last words is “Kill the baby”. And his father, who was the one who found him, after fighting tooth and nail to keep him out of the magisterium with no success, now is sending messages to Call’s teacher telling him to bind Call’s magic. What is the deal? Is Call one of the chaos ridden — creatures and humans who have had a piece of chaos magic inserted into their soul, making them dangerous mindless drones in service of the Enemy — who just managed to grow up that way without becoming a drone because he’s been that way since he was a baby? Is he a ticking time bomb, a danger to himself and all of his friends?
The characters in this book are complex and layered, the lines between good and bad, right and wrong, are blurry and hard to figure out, and the plotting and pacing are razor sharp and action packed. Call is an innocent, trapped between the forces of good and evil, trying his best to make good choices in difficult circumstances, and you will love him for it. Overall, a great read. I can’t wait for the next book!