DISCLAIMER – I was sent a free copy of this book in return for a fair and unbiased review
‘Charlie stared at the crisply ironed uniform hanging on his wardrobe door. The black blazer with its golden lion badge was at least two sizes too big for him but his mum had insisted he would ‘grow into it’.
It’s Charlie’s first day at high school, his blazer is too big and his shoes are too small, but that’s the least of his worries. He’s been missed off the class lists and is now enrolled in a new school called Brittle’s Academy with a magical and mysterious head teacher. But to stay at Brittle’s Charlie must pass one of the tests…otherwise he’ll be sent to Oblivion!
What I thought
It may have been over 15 years ago but I remember the fear and nerves on my first day of secondary; making sure I had all of the correct equipment, uniform shopping, and being dropped off at a huge building that I swore I was never going to be able find my way around. I went from a school of 120 in primary to a secondary where each year had 300. It’s a really scary day, and this book captures that trepidation really well. Charlie is really nervous about it but also trying to not be. When his name isn’t on any of the form registers and he’s left just begging for someone to tell him there’s been a mistake and to send him off with his friend? Urgh, if that had happened to me I would have been sure that something had gone wrong and I wasn’t supposed to be at that school at all. I think the only saving grace is that Charlie isn’t the only one in that position, there’s about 30 kids all standing in the hall looking at each other.
I love the idea of a secret magic school alongside the ‘normal’ one and the magic makes the normal people think the kids are in education. It’s one of the things that always bugged me about Harry Potter, muggleborns would suddenly disappear off the system. This world has the kids still in the system and their friends at the secondary think they are in class together. It’s like a big confundous merged with a notice-me-not. (Yes I am aware that using one world’s magical system to explain magic in another isn’t ideal but we haven’t learnt any magic at Brittle’s yet so it’s the best I can do)
The majority of this story, once we actually get to Brittle’s, is the sorting and the various tests needed for each house to claim you. Each house has it’s own traits but rather than putting on a hat you need to do something to display those traits, climbing the oak tree, helping others, answering a logic problem, hearing someone talk telepathically, to name a few. I really liked how after each test the numbers got smaller and how Charlie is desperate to fit in and how nervous he gets when he’s still not sorted after each one. These nerves only grow when they are told that if they fail the test they are sent to Oblivion.
One of the things that really stood out to me, that made it so clear that it was written by someone who’se been through the British school system was the price of the uniform. Because going from primary where you can get polo shirts anywhere costing maybe a £5 for a pack of two, to secondary where a single shirt costs at least £20/25 is so real its unbelievable. The fact that Charlie refuses to climb the tree because he doesn’t want to ruin the uniform and upset him mum is exactly what I would have done (also I would have been wearing a skirt which would make the whole climbing a tree thing much harder but still). A full uniform is at least £100 and that’s if you only get one jumper, one skirt, and maybe 2 shirts. It’s such a mood and I relate so hard to Charlie refusing to bow to peer pressure and refusing to even potentially ruin it. It’s a really small thing but it made the whole story feel real and anchored it to the world that I recognise.
Why I read it
I was offered a free copy for review and I thought it looked fun. Sometimes it really is that simple.
This is a really fun, cute story about how Charlie’s first day of secondary turns into something magical. It might not have been filled with thrills and massive adventures but it was filled with small moments that made the day feel real. Even if he was testing for a magical school that he didn’t know existed before the tests started.
Am I glad I read it? Yup
Did I enjoy it? Yes
Would I read again? Probably not but I would be interested to read more of the series
Would I recommend? If Brownies was still going right now I would recommend this to the girls.