A couple months ago, I read Knightley Academy by Violet Haberdasher (a.k.a Robyn Schneider).
Henry Grim works as a servant at a local boy’s school in England, but he secretly aspires to be a knight. When he sits the exam and passes, he becomes one of the first common boys to be admitted into Knightley Academy. However, the centuries-old tradition of only admitting aristocrats makes Henry and two others social outcasts, and instead, they become friends with the headmaster’s wild daughter, Frankie. The foursome stumble headlong into scrapes and threats of expulsion, but then uncover a very real plot of war with their northerly neighbor, the Nordlands. Their discoveries could mean South Britain could be in great danger, but who would believe them when they are seen to be practically nobodies?
After finishing that, I bought The Secret Prince (book 2).
Second term is about to begin for Henry Grim and his friends at Knightley Academy, but they, and the teachers and other students, are still worried about the impending war. Henry and his former nemesis Valmont start a secret society for the students to train for battle. When Henry and best friend Adam are caught, they believe they will be expelled, and hatch a plot to pretend to be servants on a diplomatic mission to the Nordlands, eager to find real proof of the coming war. However, a secret stowaway snowballs them into a series of events that do not bode well for the people of South Britain or the Nordlands, and Henry’s perfect life of finishing school at Knightley and becoming a knight detective is unavoidably changed forever.
Comments (and possible spoilery details):
Many common critics have compared this book to Harry Potter, and while it strikes me as very similar to Harry Potter, it isn’t so much the obvious similarities of orphandom, a school mystery, and a war between good and evil that give me this opinion. Rather, I thought the flavor and feel of the dialogue felt a lot like Harry Potter as well as the three main character best friends. Henry is extremely smart, quiet, but unafraid to stand up for himself and for others when they’re in the right. He also has a keen sense of honor and justice. Adam is a jokester, is somewhat iffy at classwork, and is always hungry. He is Henry’s go-to sidekick best friend. Rohan is a Lord’s son who is common because he was adopted (and Indian). He is extremely studious, hates to break rules, and is mindful of social customs. Plus, Henry’s nemesis in the first book is Valmont, which carries the H/V g00d/evil correlation from HP.
All are engaging characters on their own despite being similar to Harry, Ron, and Hermione (and good old Voldy). However, if you’re expecting this book to be as star-quality and fever-inducing as Harry Potter, it’s a definite no. The backstory and setting are nowhere near as well-drawn as J.K. Rowling’s magical universe, and there are even quite a few edits that are blatant errors (see The Secret Prince). I also thought there were a few premises in the books that just seemed rather unbelievable, especially in The Secret Prince. For instance, Henry & co. seem to never be “overheard” or truly caught when they constantly do things that they could be in serious trouble for. While at the Nordlands, the sneaking around certainly seemed like they were going to get nabbed, tortured, and killed at any moment, but yet they were traipsing around at night giggling and talking like there were no nightly patrols of teachers or other monitors. Another detail is that they seem to go haring off into the wilderness (okay, what feels like wilderness or blank space, but is actually some unknown somewheres-place in the books) and always manage to get back fairly safely without any real danger or struggle to return. If you’re lost, you ask directions etc. but this natural struggle just doesn’t add up quite adequately in the book or so it seems. Still, children of middle grades will certainly like these books although older readers might find the same not-quite-there lustre that I found even while enjoying the quick and lively dialogue.
Ratings: Definitely good reads and maybe a good buy, but superbly addictive? Not as much.
Disclaimer: Still, I could be wrong about how popular this series might get (especially since today’s crazed fiasco of E.L. James books which are supposedly fan-fiction Twilight rip-offs), and considering that I still don’t understand how people actually enjoyed Christopher Paolini’s Eragon books when they seemed to carry too many similarities to the worlds of Tolkien and Lewis.