The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (Scholastic, September 2014, upper middle grade), follows a familiar pattern, but includes sufficient depths of worldbuilding and imagination and twistiness to make it work very nicely indeed as its own thing.
Familiar pattern 1: a boy (a smart-aleck misfit) finds he has magical powers, and is chosen to attend a special school for magic, run by mages in a collective known as the Magisterium.
Differeneces: Callum Hunt, the boy in question, did not want to be chosen, and wants to fail. If he fails, his father will be happy, and he won't have to worry about being subsumed into the warped underground world of the Magisterium that his father has warned him about (the elemental mages are based in a cave system modeled on Lurray Caverns in Virginia, a truly magical place that I love). He is not a golden boy of obvious specialness--he is prickly, uncooperative at school, and a smart aleck. And he has a bad leg--multiple surgeries haven't been able to fix his limp. (And this isn't just a handicap-as-accessory-- Callum can't forget about it, and the authors make sure the reader realizes this, and magical healing isn't an option).
Familiar pattern 2: The boy has great magical potential, and is taken in by the number 1 mage teacher as one of his three apprentices. The reader (ie, me) wonders if he is a Chosen One of Specialness, and is grateful not to have to read a rhyming prophecy of distressing scansion.
Differences: Well, maybe Callum is special--there's certainly things about him that the reader (and Callum) wonder about. For one thing, Callum's dying mother wanted his father to kill him when he was an infant (we learn this right at the beginning, so it's not a spoiler). For another thing, there's the whole business of why Callum's father is so determined that he not learn magic. But I shan't say if he is Chosen or not....it is a twisty journey that leads to the answers, and better left unspoiled.
Familiar pattern 3: At magic school, he makes two good friends, a boy and a girl, and the girl is smart and determined, and the boy is a truly nice sort, ready to be friends even though Callum is all prickly. There is a mean boy who wants to be better at magic than Callum.
Differences: They aren't named Hermione and Ron and Draco. They are different in other ways, as well...........
Familiar pattern 4: There is a bad magic dude, who caused a war that decimated the previous generation of not bad magic users. The Magisterium is worried that the bad dude and his chaos-warped minions are going to rise again and fight more. But before we get to that point, we have lots of time to read about the threesome at school, learning a. magic and b. to trust each other.
Differences: Trust me on this one. Riveting twists! (if twists can rivet). Riveting questioning of what makes a person who they are!
So the whole ensemble is a really satisfying story, full of lots of lovely small mundane details and larger, un-mundane details about learning magic, and even larger details describing various adventures and confrontations, building up to the big plot happening.
It's one I can imagine wanting to re-read (if the number of books in my tbr pile ever diminishes sob sob). And that is pretty much the best compliment I can pay a book.
I will also pay it the compliment of not handing my review copy on to the library, but instead handing it to my handy member of the target audience, pretty sure he will enjoy it lots too (he is currently reading The Witch's Boy, by Kelly Barnhill, and has told me he will hand that one over to me when he's done, pretty sure I will enjoy it lots too right back at me).
Bonus: illicit wolf puppy of great cuteness kept secretly by Callum and his two friends in their underground rooms.
Final answer: very good indeed.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher