The Copper Gauntlet (Magisterium Book 2), by Holly Back and Cassandra Clare (Scholastic, MG, Sept 2015), continues the story of three young wizards in training in an underground school of magic, who were introduced in The Iron Trial (my review). I enjoyed that one very much, being a huge fan of schools of magic, and although the adventures of this second book actually didn't much take place at the school, I am at this point committed to the characters and the story and will follow along happily wherever they choose to go.
What makes the series interesting to me is that the dynamic is not so much about learning to be powerful, or learning necessary skills to triumph over the bad adversary, but much more about the dynamics of friendship and trusting not only your peers but yourself. For Callum, the central protagonist, this is all a rather fraught issue, because he is a reincarnation of the Big Bad Guy, who stuck his soul into Callum's baby self so he could try to bring his plans (defeating death) to fruition with better luck next time. Although the Number 1 henchman, who survived that first big face-off, is totally a tool with no obvious redeeming features other than strength of conviction and loyalty, the Big Bad Guy is actually not necessarily bad (he was, after all, Callum's father's best friend), and his reasons for trying to defeat death are not unsympathetic.
This doesn't particularly set Callum's mind at rest, though. Callum spends a lot of time wondering when the seeds of Dark Lord are going to sprout within him, and wondering if his father really wants him dead, so he doesn't turn into Darklord 2.0. And Callum's friends, who he is keeping this a secret from, spend a lot of time being his good friends, while trying to come to terms with who they themselves are, and what family, school, and fate, expect from them.
Callum is also a rather rare middle grade hero who has a disability that doesn't either contribute to his abilities or which is magically healed (though I guess it might be in a future book). He has a badly damaged leg, and walking is painful for him. This disability doesn't define him, but it does affect him in a realistic way, and the authors keep it nicely in mind when moving him from place to place within the story.
So lots of character stuff, which I like! And an exciting storyline involving near-death magical encounters, lots of questions raised and a few answered, and plenty of page time for Callum's pet chaos ridden wolf cub (although he's almost not a cub at all anymore). This is one of my favorite on-going MG series, and I can't wait till the next book.
Although this series is pretty clearly "middle grade" I think it's a good one for older MG readers moving toward YA-ness; I think older readers will appreciate the ambiguities more, and the interplay between the various characters (which don't, thank goodness, appear to be heading toward a love triangle) feels more complicated than is often the case in younger MG.