This book is a “British Public School Gone Magical” story in the Harry Potter tradition. It involves a gifted young man who is given the chance to study at a top-secret elite school for special students. The main conflicts in the book have to do with surviving the challenges of his first year there, while taking on the threat of a mysterious Agent with whom he shares a strange connection.
There are so many versions of this story going around that “Potteresque” ought to be a subgenre of Young Adult Fantasy. When I read one, I’m asking myself, “What makes this one stand out from the others?” In this case I would have to say it’s the characters. Drake himself is far more complex and realistic than Harry Potter, and more mature readers can connect with him on a personal level. I was particularly taken by his sometime sidekick Ripley: fractious, talented, antagonistic and vulnerable. The other members of his class are rather stereotyped, but within reason for this genre.
However, a student’s freshman challenges are not enough to carry a novel, and the weakness of this story is in the external threat, a hive mind a la Wrinkle in Time, which is trying to take over the universe. Except for the climactic chapter where the Agent’s plot is revealed, this threat is rather nebulous and unimportant, leaving the more mature reader with a lack of thematic meat to get one’s teeth into for most of the story.
Recommended for YA Fantasy fans who found Harry Potter a bit young.(4 / 5)