Knightley Academy, by Violet Haberdasher, was published in 2010 by Aladdin.
Henry Grim has never been in trouble for borrowing a sword from the headmaster’s private stores. He has never discovered a forbidden room in a foreign castle, or received a death threat over breakfast. All Henry knows is life as an orphaned servant boy at the Midsummer School, bullied by the privileged sons of aristocracy. But all that changes when Henry is the first commoner to pass the entrance exam for the prestigious Knightly Academy, where he will be trained as a modern-day knight alongside the cleverest and bravest fourteen-year-olds in the country. Henry and his roommates, two other students from decidedly un-Knightley backgrounds, are not exactly greeted with open arms by their classmates. In fact, it soon becomes apparent that someone is going to great lengths to sabotage the trio’s chances at becoming knights. But Henry soon learns that there is more at stake than his future at Knightley, and only he can sound the alarm. Is anyone going to believe a former servant on the brink of expulsion?
Knightley Academy is incredibly cheeky in the way that it knows it’s like Muggle Harry Potter and embraces it wholeheartedly. There’s even a line that goes, “Where do you think we are, magic school?” It’s hard to judge the book for being a Harry Potter copy when it’s so honest about it.
But even so, “Muggle Harry Potter” is exactly how to describe Knightley Academy. The main character is an orphan, he’s different from the others in some way, there’s a trio of friends, there’s conspiracy, there’s a rival school, there’s a cruel teacher, and the motto of the school rhymes (a la the Sorting Hat) even though there’s no reason for it to do so. The book is fun, but it’s hard to enjoy at times because of the similarities with Harry Potter. I would say Knightley Academy is more similar to Harry Potter than The Iron Trial is, and The Iron Trial has magic!
As far as plot and mechanics go, I thought that a lot of information could have been revealed much more smoothly. There’s a part where Henry stumbles across a hidden room and is all “Oh, man! This means this which in this world means this!” And I’m left thinking, “Some hints earlier about what this all means would have been nice.” As it stands, I thought the impact was lessened by my own confusion over what Henry was saying and the way it was revealed. It also made my opinion of the rest of the book much lower than what it was before that part.
Also, I’m really sick of the “rich people treat poor like dirt and are mean in every way and there’s not a decent rich person anywhere” trope. At least Haberdasher circumvents that slightly with Rohan.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Steampunk, Realistic, Middle Grade
“Thank you for letting me take the exam,” Henry told the examiners, and then hurried to catch up with Professor Stratford.
“Nice touch, there, collecting the cups at the end,” Professor Stratford said. “I’ll bet anything that was part of the test.”
“I thought it might be,” Henry admitted. “And Cook would just send me back out here to collect them anyway.”
“So it seems fortune would favor the unfavored,” Stratford said, smiling to himself.
“Who said that?” Henry asked, not recognizing the quote.
“I did. Just now.”