Tag: Cassandra Clare

The Bronze Key (Magisterium #3)

Cover image for The Bronze Key by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

ISBN 9780545522311

“He felt as though no matter what he did, he veered closer and closer to Constantine’s life and Constantine’s decisions. It was like being on a collision course with himself.”

Call, Aaron, and Tamara are heroes in the world of mages, having presented the head of Constantine Madden, the Enemy of Death, to the Collegium. But it seems that not everyone appreciates their efforts, because on the night of the ceremony acknowledging their service, someone tries to kill Call. Call thought his secret was safe, but why else would someone be trying to kill him? Worse, being caught in the middle costs a fellow student her life.  Not even the Magisterium can protect them, but the teachers have forbidden Call and his friends from trying to catch the killer. But since the Masters don’t know that Call is the reincarnation of Constantine Madden—and he isn’t about to tell them—he is sure that they will never catch the killer without his help.

The Bronze Key is a fast-paced magical adventure laced with the signature humour that Holly Black and Cassandra Clare have brought to the series. But the Magisterium series turns on playing with tropes, using both the magic school setting and the Chosen One narrative to advantage in this regard. In an introduction to The Iron Trial, Black and Clare wrote “we wanted to tell a story about a protagonist who had all the markers of a hero: tragedy and secrets in his past, magic power. We wanted people to believe they knew what kind of story they were in for. And then we wanted them to be surprised…” Readers expecting a simple Harry Potter rehash were met with twists and turns in both The Iron Trial and The Copper Gauntlet.

That said, Black and Clare do not seem to have brought that philosophy fully to bear on the third installment of their series, which marks the mid-point of Magisterium. With the Enemy of Death publicly defeated, Call and Aaron’s Makar powers suddenly look more threatening. What if they become evil, too? There is a spy inside the Magisterium, and a new overseer of the school assigned by the government. Black and Clare typically play their hand late in the book, and this is true again here, with several plot twists and major events coming in the last few pages. But they don’t succeed in subverting the tropes in the same way as in previous installments, and that has been a large part of the allure of this series. As we ramp up into the two final volumes, there may still be room to play with these narrative choices, but it remains a disappointment for this volume.
The Bronze Key does have a good helping of mystery and adventure which will continue to hold many readers who are less interested in playing with convention. In addition to trying to identify Call’s would-be assassin, the trio also faces new magical tests, tensions within the group, and the daunting task of trying to save the Chaos-ridden animals like Havoc from extermination. Tamara is brought face-to-face with the fate of those, like her sister Ravan, who are Devoured by their power, and Aaron’s family secrets come out into the open. However, even those who enjoy the fast-paced plot may find the one-two punch of the cliff-hanger ending overwrought.

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The Copper Gauntlet (Magisterium #2)

Cover image for The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare  by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

ISBN 978-0-545-52228-1

“He knew that having the rare devotion of a Chaos-ridden beast counted for a lot of Evil Overlord Points, but he couldn’t regret keeping him. Of course, that was probably a problem with being an Evil Overlord. You didn’t regret the right things.”

Despite his father’s wishes, Callum Hunt is determined to return to the Magisterium and continue his magical education, along with his friends Aaron and Tamara. But when he discovers a hidden room in their basement, he realizes his father may be more determined to prevent this from happening than Call ever would have expected. Worse, it seems that Alastair may suspect Call’s true identity as the reincarnation of Constantine Madden, the Enemy of Death. Call runs away before his father can execute his plan, taking his Chaos-ridden wolf, Havoc, with him. Back in the world of mages, he learns that a powerful magical artifact, the Alkahest, has been stolen, and that the Assembly suspects the allies of the Enemy of Death have taken it to use against Aaron, the new Makar. Along with his friends, Call sets out to recover the Alkahest, all while trying to conceal the fact that he suspects that his father has stolen it to use against him, not Aaron.

The Copper Gauntlet picks up shortly after the events of The Iron Trial, and follows Call as he tries to do the right thing while living under the weight of a terrible secret. His relationship with his father is strained by the fact that he knows that he is not just Alastair’s titular son, but also the murderer of his real son, even though he remembers nothing of that life. His every action feels weighted with undue significance, as he struggles with whether or not it is inevitable that he become evil like Constantine Madden was. However, it is his secretiveness—rather than his secret itself—which begins to threaten his closest friendships, as Tamara and Aaron begin to suspect that something is amiss. Aaron is preoccupied with the burdens of his own destiny, but Tamara won’t take no for answer.

“Magisterium” is a series about playing with tropes; the main thrust of this is Call’s discovery that he is not, as we might have expected, the Makar, but rather the one Aaron is destined to fight. However, also central to this volume is pulling in Jasper de Winter, the classmate who seems poised to be their at-school nemesis, and instead turning him into a reluctant ally in their latest adventure. When Jasper catches the trio trying to sneak out of school to go after the Alkahest, the friends decide he can’t be trusted not to tell, and take him along instead. Jasper is eager to be friends with Makar, but the realities of that friendship might turn out to be more than he bargained for.

The long build-up to the twist-ending in the first volume had many readers worried that “Magisterium” was nothing more than a tired “Harry Potter” rehash. Though certain similarities remain—and indeed seem to be essential to setting up and then dashing expectations—with the big secret finally out in the open, Black and Clare are free to really begin developing their world’s unique qualities. The character are growing, the stakes are rising, and “Magisterium” seems poised to stand on its own.

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The Iron Trial (Magisterium #1)

Cover image for The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clareby Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

ISBN 978-0-545-52225-0

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2014. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

“They all yelled in excitement. Tamara yelled because she was happy. Aaron yelled because he liked it when other people were happy, and Call yelled because he was sure they were going to die.” 

Callum Hunt has been raised by a single father, who has taught him to fear and avoid magic, which took his mother’s life in the last mage war. But as the son two legacy students of the Magisterium, he must attend the Iron Trial, and do his best to fail the admissions test. If he passes, he will face a terrible choice between becoming a servant of the Magisterium, or having his magic bound, and his memory erased. But despite Call’s best efforts to fail the Iron Trial, one of the Masters sees something in him, and chooses him as an apprentice. If he can survive his Iron Year at the Magisterium, he will have learned enough to control his magic, and leave the school forever. But the Magisterium knows how to bind its apprentices tight, and in a year, Call may not want to leave after all, whatever his father has taught him.

Holly Black (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown) and Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) team up for The Iron Trial, the first in a planned series of five books about a magical world haunted by its war-torn past. Given Clare’s background as a writer of fan fiction, comparisons to Harry Potter are inevitable, and certainly there are parallels beyond the magic school setting. Call’s mother died saving him from The Enemy of Death, a Voldemort-like figure who defected from the Magisterium. Once at school, he becomes friends with Aaron and Tamara, forming a familiar trifecta consisting of two boys and a girl. However, those who dismiss The Iron Trial as a Harry Potter rehash may not have read all the way to the end.

In the introduction to the Advance Readers Edition of The Iron Trial, Black and Clare write, “We wanted to tell a story about a protagonist who had all the markers of a hero: tragedy and secrets in his past, magic power. We wanted people to believe they knew what kind of story they were in for. And then we wanted them to be surprised…” However, the first major reversal doesn’t come until about 200 pages in; subverting tropes means setting up expectations beforehand, and the first two-thirds of the book are heavy on world-building. Anyone who quit before that point could be forgiven for thinking they had been reading an unremarkable addition to the magic school genre. However, the book really comes together in the final 100 pages, where we see Black and Clare making good on their promise to surprise readers that “are familiar with the tropes of fantasy.” The Iron Trial clearly acknowledges its debt to Harry Potter, and other magic school books that have gone before, while paving its own way forward. This is a series to watch.

Page to Screen: City of Bones

cover image for city of bones by Cassandra ClareNovel by Cassandra Clare

Film directed by Harald Zwart

ISBN 978-1-4424-2103-5

Vampires, werewolves, even warlocks, they’re part-human. Part of this world, born in it. They belong here. But demons come from other worlds. They’re interdimensional parasites. They come to a world and use it up. They can’t build, just destroy—they can’t make, only use. They drain a place to ashes and when it’s dead, they move on to the next one. It’s life they want—not just your life or mine, but all the life in this world, its rivers and cities, its oceans, its everything.”

Movie poster for City of BonesFifteen year old Clary Fray has a relatively normal if somewhat sheltered life with her mother, Jocelyn, in New York City. She has a faithful best friend in Simon, even if it sometimes seems that he would like to be more than friends. Then one night, she and Simon sneak out to an all ages club called Pandemonium, where Clary witnesses an inexplicable murder. Inexplicable because the body disappears, and it seems only she can see the killers. The three warriors call themselves Shadowhunters, and claim their victim was a demon. They are also very interested in how it is that Clary, supposedly a mundane, can see them at all. On the heels of this encounter, Clary’s mother disappears, and she herself is attacked by a demon in her own home. It appears that Jocelyn may have been hiding something from Clary, or possibly hiding Clary from someone. Now Clary finds herself pulled into the world her mother deliberately left behind, with only the mysterious and self-assured Jace as her guide.

booktomovieIn film and book alike, the dialogue is a bit awkward, often verging on cheesy. Cassandra Clare has a campy sense of humour and largely manages to carry it off well, but the film seems to be on the fence about whether it should embrace its own cheesiness or aim for the dramatic. The audience in the theatre seemed uncertain about whether they were laughing with the film or at it in many cases, the greenhouse scene in particular. Fortunately, Jamie Campbell Bower and Robert Sheehan were able to pull off Clare’s amazing snarky banter between Jace and Simon, and in general embodied these two characters, and the tension between them, incredibly well.

Clare’s book is on the long side (600+ pages in paperback), featuring a number of side plots and scrapes that were streamlined out of the film. Overall, this simplification was badly needed—I suspect any film version of the flying vampire motorcycle scene would have been unbearably bad—but in some cases, the film goes too far. The second encounter with Madame Dorothea, for example, makes absolutely no sense without the explanation provided in the book. The dialogue that explains the situation in the book feels a bit forced and expositional, but at least the situation makes sense. Jocelyn’s decision to give Madame Dorothea the tarot cards is not logical otherwise, and a couple lines of dialogue are all it would have taken to correct the confusion.

The book and film are also alike in that they are consistently inconsistent, funny one moment, and melodramatic the next; action-packed and fast paced, and then suddenly plodding, weighed down by exposition and explanation. Both have fun and very enjoyable moments, but are less satisfying when taken as a whole.

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