Haberdasher, Violet. Knightley Academy.
Henry Grim, a servant at Midsummer School in a circa-1900s, alternative England, studies with one of the teachers when he can steal the time. When the prestigious Knightley Academy (where the elite are trained to serve as knights) agrees that any boy resident in the school can sit for the entrance exam, Henry does, and becomes the first boy from the school in five years to pass. The teacher with whom he has worked gets offered a job at the school tutoring Headmaster Winter's irrepressible daughter Frankie, and the two set off. Henry is not the only "commoner" who gets into the school now that the rules are relaxed; Adam, who is Jewish, and Rohan, who is Indian, are also accepted.
The three are bullied, especially by Valmont, the nephew of a teacher, and become the butt of missing fencing foils, cheating frame ups, and most dastardly, an episode when a stolen artifact is planted in Rohan's things, leading to his expulsion. When Henry finds out a secret about a rival school in the warlike Nordlands, he tries to figure out why he is a target so that he can clear his name and help Knightley.
This was quite a good mystery and adventure tale, and I'm sure that there are lengthy sequels in the offing. (This clocks in at 480 pages.) I liked Henry's forthright effort, his attempts to reconcile with his tormentors, and his relationships with the adults in his world. The book is well-paced and interesting.
What I really, really disliked about this book was the hype. Why use an overly twee pseudonym like "Violet Haberdasher" when your picture is on the back flap? (And then post on another site your real identity, Robyn Scheider?)Simon and Schuster also put a lot of effort into the web site; this effort would have been better spent on a decent cover. I also didn't get the description from Tamora Pierce of this book as "Steam-punky". Leviathan, yes. But this didn't have any of the requisite gadgets that I associate with Steampunk. I really cannot think of another book whose hype almost caused me not to pick it up. Don't let this be the case with you; even though this is not really a fantasy book, students who liked Groosham Grange will find this appealing.
Other reviews of this title are at:
Brooke's Box of Books