Middle School Monday – The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
I was so pleased to find that The Copper Gauntlet more than lived up to the promise of the first book in the Magisterium series, The Iron Trial. Initially as I read The Iron Trial I thought it was a good fantasy that my students would enjoy, but maybe lacking in the depth I was looking for…until I got to the end. It turned out that almost the entire book was set up for several very important plot twists that I never saw coming. That’s a difficult one to pull over on someone who reads as much MG and YA fantasy as I do. I was duly impressed. This next installment in the series keeps both the action and the plot twists coming.
If you haven’t read The Iron Trial, stop here and go read it. Very little of what comes next will make sense to you. I’m going to try to convey a sense of how good this book is without giving away any spoilers – wish me luck.
Callum is at home for summer break with his father. Things are tense, since Alastair never wanted Callum to attend the Magisterium, or know anything about his magical abilities in the first place. Add to that the presence of Callum’s chaos ridden wolf pet, Havoc, and you start to get a feel for how things are going. Callum ends up running away from home in fear for his life and finds himself taken in by the family of his classmate and friend Tamara (whom is also hosting the third in their group of friends from the Magisterium, Aaron, the Makar, wielder of chaos magic.)
Meanwhile, someone has attempted to steal a magical item called the Alkahest, a gauntlet that gives it’s bearer the ability to separate a magician from his powers. While everyone fears that it is The Enemy and his forces who have attempted the theft in order to use it on Aaron to separate him from his chaos magic, Callum has a different theory. He believes that it is his father who has tried to steal the Alkahest in order to use it on him. To understand why, you need to have read The Iron Trial.
Once they are back at the Magisterium for their second year of school, it slowly becomes clear to Callum that he must leave and try to stop his father, all the while protecting him from the council, who would probably have him killed rather than allow him to use the Alkahest. In leaving, he manages to take along both Tamara and Aaron, who refuse to let him go on his own, as well as his pet Havoc and the reluctant Jasper, who tries to stop them from leaving. The action continues apace, until the end when there are several plot twists and interesting developments.
One of my favorite things about this series is how it deals with the conflict of good and evil on so many different levels. It ripples out from the heart of the story (Callum) and touches every person and all of their decisions. We see multiple times individuals who are otherwise ‘good’ do something ‘wrong’ because they believe it is the only way to save someone or something they love. We see otherwise ‘evil’ people protect what they believe in with a matching devotion. We see people who are only out for themselves. Within all of it, we see flawed, multidimensional characters in high stakes situations unsure of whom they can trust. It makes for a fascinating read as well as an interesting foray into the complexities of real life for readers at an age where they are just beginning to see beyond the black and white they’ve been taught into the myriad shades of grey that make up our world.
I wholeheartedly recommend this series to anyone serving ages 10 and up.
About Robin Willis
After working in middle school libraries for over 20 years, Robin Willis now works in a public library system in Maryland.
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