Monday, December 16, 2013

Knightley Academy by Violet Haberdasher, 2011

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Henry Grim is a servant boy at the Midsummer School until he passes the elite Knightley Academy exam, a test that every Midsummer boy has mysteriously failed the past five years. Henry suddenly finds himself one of the first commoners studying at the Academy, alongside the cleverest and bravest--and most arrogant--young aristocrats in the country. But someone isn't too happy about Henry, and two other commoners, who have been let into the prestigious school. And that someone is out to sabtoge the three from becoming full-fledged Knights of the Realm--the goal of every student at the Academy. As Henry and the two other boys try to ward off their classmates' attempts to thwart their paths, they soon uncover a conspiracy that violates the Hundred Years' Peace treaty--and could lead to war! Can Henry manage to save his school and country from their enemies--and continue to study at the Academy?

Delving into this book for the first time years ago, I had no idea what I was reading - a boarding school was involved, I knew that. A smart commoner who rubs shoulders with the elite. Danger, excitement, and intrigue. And really, I was hooked before I even knew anything else.

Henry is an orphaned servant at the posh Midsummer Academy. On the outside he is indistinguishable from any other servant, with a rough childhood and no foreseeable prospects. Dishes and dirty chalkboards are the only things in his future – or so it seems. You see, a professor at the academy, Professor Stratford, has been teaching Henry things far above his class. Henry can speak at least five languages, knows how to do math, and science, and all those other fancy rich-people subjects. But it’s not until he gets a chance, that these skills will ever do him any good. You see, the most elite school of all is Knightley Academy, a school that draws the best students from each of the best schools. Henry takes the entrance exam through a loop-hole (they never said entrants had to attend the school, just that they had to live there!), and lo and behold, he gets accepted! In fact, they even let in two more students from a pool of commoners, just because of him. And so the adventures begin. 

Knightley Academy follows Henry and his fellow misfit friends Adam and Rohan as they navigate their classes in fencing, etiquette, and medicine and train to be knights. Oh, I forgot to tell you, didn’t I? Yeah, it’s a school to train to be knights. But knights don’t actually fight, or kill, or go to war. A treaty was signed decades ago between the three countries of Britain (each independent), promising they would never train for battle or go to war against each other. Instead, Knightley Academy trains students to be knight protectors, knight police, knight medics, etc. All is right and peachy, until Henry, Adam, and Rohan realize that someone is out to get them expelled. And then Henry discovers something that shows their peaceable neighboring country (which happens to be communistic) might not be as peaceful as they thought, and things take a spiral toward excitement.

Before I get any farther, I have to talk about the fact that this book is a sort of tribute to Harry Potter, a parody, as it were. Except maybe I shouldn’t use the “p” word in connection with this book, because then people might not read it. Before you either quietly slip away rolling your eyes in distaste, or you run out and buy a copy just because I said the magic words (no pun intended!), no, this is not a laughably bad parody about a kid with parent in a coma who didn’t know he had the ability to tap dance while standing on his head. And it’s not a commentary about the good/bad things in the Harry Potter books. Pure and simple, it’s a work of love by an author who enjoyed Harry Potter so much she took the basic outline, twisted it, and then put it back together a bit skewed. There is no magic, Henry’s far from being a famous celebrity (try infamous, by dint of being the poorest), and his sporting abilities are pretty appalling.

It’s a lot of fun to catch all the parallels to Harry Potter in this book, but even if I’d never read Harry Potter in my life I’m convinced I still would have heartily enjoyed Knightley Academy and its sequel (still waiting for the third book, Ms. Haberdasher!).

Anyway, back on topic. I get the feeling my first book review might wind up a little long. Bear with me here.

The characterization in this book is not the best I’ve ever seen, and sometimes I felt like Henry was just a little too perfect. You know, good grades, speaks about five languages, always ahead on homework (speaking of Harry Potter, I’d actually put him closer to Hermione – without the know-it-all-ness), and still humble, kind, and a great friend. Really, I just want to wrap him up and make him my best friend/homework helper. You’d think that you would come to not like Henry, but I think because of all the odds stacked against him (and his great sense of humor) you really just commiserate with him and cheer when he gets any form of acceptance or praise from the snobby students around him (who aren’t really all that bad – most of them, anyway).

As for setting, well, the book is set somewhere around the Industrial Revolution. I think. Sorry, I’m taking so much AP European History right now, it’s all slushed around in my head. But they have primitive automobiles, and watches (signs of the Industrial Revolution), but it’s set in an alternative Britain where each of the three countries (Ireland, Scotland, and England) have completely different names and histories, and each is independent.

I have to say that I fell in love with Knightley Academy from the first description of its rambling grounds and mismatched buildings. Whether it’s overused or not, there’s something about a rather eccentric boarding school (and the rather eccentric new headmaster who let Henry attend) that just makes me curl my toes, snuggle up in my blankets, and wish for some hot chocolate to sip while I read. Not that I ever have any, however, because making the hot chocolate would entail getting out of bed.
So do I recommend this book? Yes. In fact, both Knightley Academy and its sequel, The Secret Prince, made it onto my Christmas wish list this year. It’s the perfect book for people who don’t want to/aren’t allowed to read Harry Potter, but who don’t want to miss out on all the good parts. It’s also a book for people who have read Harry Potter, because if you like Harry Potter, odds are you’ll love this book . . . well, not just as much, because really. That’s just not possible. But maybe, I don’t know. Three-fourths as much as Harry Potter.

Which really, in my book, is pretty much true love.

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