Bookworms, I’ll tell you upfront: I’m going to have a lot of trouble reviewing KNIGHTLEY ACADEMY for you. I’m not sure how to describe the magical way the story snuck beneath my skin and consumed me. I feel like if I describe it one way, I’ll pigeon-hole it and you’ll think it’s a book that it isn’t. Even though it’s similar to other works in some ways, it’s also unlike anything I’ve read, in a class of its own. Unputdownable. A perfect blend of reality and fantasy for children, teens, and adults alike.
Ignore the title of this book: If KNIGHTLEY ACADEMY brings up images of knights in shining armor and damsels in distress, you’re WRONG. You’re also not alone: That’s the type of novel I thought I was getting, too. I thought this novel was going to be about a school that taught students how to be a knight. I was hoping for the next RANGER’S APPRENTICE by John Flanagan or SONG OF THE LIONESS (or PROTECTOR OF THE SMALL) series by Tamora Pierce. While this novel IS about knights, it’s not about *knights.* When I first started reading and saw the word “car,” I thought, “What…? Dashing knights in our world?” And then I kept reading. It takes place at the turn of the century, when electricity is still new and cars are used only by a select few. I grew even more confused. But then I realized how brilliant author Violet Haberdasher (nom de plume) is. Because this world is our world, but it’s *not* our world. At one point, there were real knights of old. Eventually, the various countries signed The Longsword Treaty with one another, creating peace and eliminating the need for combat and true knights. Instead, Knights of the Realm now train to be detective knights, police knights, and secret service knights. They might also work in prestigious office positions or for famous families.
KNIGHTLEY ACADEMY also holds a vague similarity to HARRY POTTER, albeit without the use of any magic. The novel centers around an orphaned boy named Henry Grim who has dreamed of one day attending Knightley Academy. Alas, without a proper status or position in life, he has no chance of getting in...until the entrance exams allow all residents at the school where he works to apply. There are a couple of characters reminiscent of beloved members of the POTTER family, as well as a few nuances here and there. Haberdasher wrote a particularly lovely guest post earlier this year on Bookalicio.us about her goals in creating KNIGHTLEY ACADEMY. She wanted a series to fill in the hole left when the POTTER series concluded for fans such as herself who grew up with the novels, something with a similar texture to them. But she didn’t want the magic, or a boy who knew nothing about the school he was about to attend, and resolutions that never occurred in the best-selling series. In the guest post, she states, “The hero is the cleverest scholar in his year, hopeless at sports and destined for nothing. And yet…there is something undeniably Potterish about my storytelling.” The result is a series with a similar flavor, but different enough that the two truly can’t be compared to one another.
In KNIGHTLEY ACADEMY, danger lurks on the horizon. The newspapers all buzz about how the Nordlands are doing medical experiments on their citizens, and talk about how women are refused education to the extent that people who break the law are prosecuted. But if these rumors are true, then London is about to go to war for the first time since The Longsword Treaty was set in motion...and knights are no longer trained for combat. It’s a dangerous time to be a young man. London is changing as well: For the first time, Knightley Academy is admitting commoners to its elite knight program due to the discovery of a brilliant young servant named Henry Grim. In addition to accepting Henry into training, the school opens two more spots and admits Adam Beckerman and Rohan Mehta. The three students become roommates and are ostracized by their peers, Henry because he was a servant, Adam because he’s Jewish, and Rohan due to his dark skin. This is hardest on Rohan, who, while orphaned early on, was adopted by a wealthy family and feels equal to the other boys at school despite his appearance. The first year students are too afraid to reach out to the three “common” students due to two students who delight in tormenting them, the pompous Theobold Archer IV and his lackey, Fergus Valmont, with whom Henry is previously acquainted (and not in a pleasant way). The boys must suffer through school, making friends only with Francesca “Frankie” Winter, the Headmaster’s teenage daughter. Soon, terrifying accidents start to occur, and it becomes clear that either someone wants to remove the three common boys from Knightley and restore the school to its superior roots or something more sinister is at play.
KNIGHTLEY ACADEMY is full of adventure, mystery, and intrigue. I had a lot of trouble putting it down and delved right into book two, THE SECRET PRINCE (launching June 28, 2011). The books are currently set to be a trilogy, but they don’t have cliffhanger endings. Rather, they hit the end of term the way the POTTER books due, with the first novel ending as winter break approaches and the second one starting off with second term. Unless the series is extended, the books won’t follow Henry and his friends throughout their years at Knightley, for reasons that will become apparent in book two. KNIGHTLEY ACADEMY was fantastic, and THE SECRET PRINCE is even better. I’ll post a review tomorrow. If you’re looking for a new series that hits your sweet spot and doesn’t leave you frustrated for several years, this is a series you don’t want to miss.
At the moment, I’m reading a library copy, so the original hardback cover can be seen on the right. Knightley Academy takes up the bulk of the cover beneath the veil of night, with a shadowy figure about to ascend the stairs. I’ll soon buy my own copy in paperback (And at only $5.99 for an almost 500 page novel [albeit middle-grade, so it reads fast], how can you say no to such a steal?), and the cover will match the above image on the left. The new cover embodies much of what I thought the novel would be, but also so much more. At first glance, if you just take in the armor and the “sword,” you think you’re looking at a real knight. Then you realize that the student is in fencing gear, and while sword combat is no longer taught, the students do fence in the novel. I like both covers. I love the font on the paperback the best and feel that the fencing is well-suited for the cover, but I also enjoy the darker atmosphere of the original cover and like the way the school is the focal point. Which cover do you prefer?
This entry is part of Logan E. Turner and The Unread Reader's All Male Review Challenge (2011 Edition). See how I've done so far here.]