Students at the Magisterium are supposed to be safe. Under the watchful eyes of the mages, they are taught to use magic to bring order to a chaotic world.
But now the chaos is fighting back. Call, Tamara, and Aaron should be worrying about things like pop quizzes and magic contests. Instead, after the shocking death of one of their classmates, they must track down a sinister killer… and risk their own lives in the process.
As Call, Tamara, and Aaron discover, magic can only be as good as the person who wields it. In evil hands, it has the capacity to do immeasurable harm, unless it is stopped in time. — [X]
It’s become something of a September tradition, to read and review the latest instalment of Holly Black and Cassandra Clare’s Magisterium series*. I devoured “The Bronze Key“, the third and newest Magisterium book, in record time. It was a fast book, so let’s start this review with pacing! One of my favourite things about this book is that it almost reads like a fantasy murder mystery. In that the murder mystery genre is infused with fantasy, not that the murder is my fantasy. From the beginning, there’s this cheerful air of comfort and then suddenly, a falling chandelier. It’s a pretty intense way to start school again. For the rest of the book, Tamara, Aaron, Call, and even Jasper are trying to figure out who is trying to kill Call and why. They take turns keeping watch, they make sure Call is never alone, and they are making their way through their own list of suspects. As far as I’m concerned, the last two books were leading up to these very lovely moments of friendship and teamwork. Interactions that used to be fraught with discomfort, insecurity, and secrets are now easy, normal, and kind of empowering.
This sort of (painstakingly developed) team dynamic also means that we get to see more of characters who aren’t Call or Aaron, the white boys of the group. We get to see more of Jasper—rude as he is, is also the funniest of the group and every one of my favourite quote from “The Bronze Key” can be attributed to him—and we get more, my personal favourite, Tamara. Tamara, who finally got to shine on the cover, centre stage, flanked by two powerful mages like they’re her bodyguards and she’s the chosen one, comes alive in this book. I mean, she was always pretty awesome, but we get a whole lot more of her in this book. Her unwavering courage and her skills as a mage have always been an asset to the group, but in this book we get to see what Tamara is all about: a fierce loyalty to her friends, but also a dedication to being the only one who gets to define what kind of mage she’ll be. The book is definitely still about the ways the metanarrative and the narrative pit Call and Aaron against each other, but I enjoyed that there were plenty of moments that were defined by Tamara, Jasper, even Master Rufus, and a few other supporting characters. (BTW, speaking of Master Rufus, the more we know about him and the more we see of other Masters of colour, the farther he strays from the Magical Negro trope, which satisfies me greatly.)
World-building details like what food the students eat, the kind of magic they can do, the kind of beliefs and prejudices mages hold, actually felt nice to sink into. Even the fun illustrations are like coming home in a way.
Like Call, by book three, we are much more comfortable in this world. We know what to expect … until we don’t. In the list of things that we most definitely don’t expect, is a spoiler that is cause for concern. I will be taking a page of Elizabeth’s book and change the colour of the next few lines. If you’d like to read on, just use your cursor to highlight the “missing” section. If my reading of the text is correct, then it is possible that the Black and Clare have employed the Bury Your Gay trope. I have a strong suspicion this character won’t stay dead, but even if I am correct about that, my next concern would be that the character(s) come(s) out at the tail-end of the series, which IMO isn’t going to get any points for representation. Well, maybe one. For existing at all in a MG book, when so many others *cough-TCC-cough* have disappointed readers. That’s not much, though. However, Magisterium as a series has always been about complicating tropes and upending readers’ expectation. If I am correct about these characters, I am optimistic that Black and Clare will have some clever twists in store for us.