Friday, October 25, 2013

Book Review: The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil #1)

Release Date: May 14, 2013
Author: Soman Chainani
Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 488 pages

“The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before. Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each. But if at first the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear. One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own. The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth. An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.”

This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.

But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School For Good, thrust amongst handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are…?

The School for Good & Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one.


Protagonists: From the moment I met them I could tell that Sophie and Agatha were very different. In fact it's blatantly obvious that they are pretty much the inverse of each other. Sophie is a girl who does her best to be good, hoping that one day she'll be taken to the School for Good and become a princess, but it's plain to see that she's a rather vain and materialistic person. Then there's Agatha, she's had a rough life and to hide her pain she comes off rather gruff, preferring to hang out in the graveyard and keep company with her cat, Reaper, but on the inside she's good and pure willing to do anything to save her friend. Over the course of the book who these characters are on the outside begin to seep out and show their true colors. The character development is very easily seen, yet not so much that I felt as if someone was holding my hand through it all, it happens fairly naturally but holds off on being subtle to make it easier to see how the character get from point A to point B.

Characters: While this book had a fairly great cast of supporting characters, I felt that they could have used a bit more development. I really like Sophie's Never roommates, but I always wanted to know more about them, though they weren't the worst developed characters by a long shot. With mean girl Beatrix, I felt that she was only there to get in our protagonists' way and I felt that with a bit more development she would seem less like an object or plot device and more like a real character, and don't even get me started on the teachers. Many of the teachers in this school are as immature as the students they teach which really made irritated when I read it because I felt like they should have had a but more neutrality despite their respective moral or immoral sides.

Romance: So I can tell you that there are aspects of romance to this book but since it's fairly unconventional it's hard to critique without giving away spoilers, so if you want to know more about the romance aspect and aren't bothered by fairly large spoilers just highlight the rest of the section. Now there is some debate as to whether or not Sophie and Agatha are in love with each other, though the only real evidence of this is that Agatha kisses Sophie in the end to try and save her and get sent home. Now I'm not opposed to them entering a relationship in further books nor am I denying that it could be possible, but I don't really think that will happen. Why I think this is, is that there was never any indication that either Sophie or Agatha have any romantic feelings for each other, in fact they each spent the majority of the book stuck in an insane love triangle with Tedros, who by the way is a terrible character. At first I thought Tedros was that character who looks stuck up and rich on the outside, but inside was a fairly profound individual, but no he wasn't. He was very shallow and misogynistic throughout the whole book, not giving romantic thoughts towards Agatha a second thought until she found her inner beauty (which effected her outer beauty as well) and it took him until the very end to realize that Agatha can take care of herself if need be. Now Sophie and Agatha could both be bisexual, not realizing their feelings for each other until the end, but even then I would expect some third-person narration at the very least heavily hinting at romantic feelings between the two. Anyway sorry for the long rant to those who chose to read this section.

World-Building: I'm a huge sucker for anything that reinterprets or expands on fairy tales and other classic tales. This book is no exception, I loved the idea of a school that trains the future of Good and Evil, however that's only a fraction of what this book is about. This book raises questions about where Good and Evil came from and my favorite question, "If Good and Evil are in balance, then why does Good always win?" This book does have a slight philosophical spin added to it, but it doesn't really detract from the story and really helps carry it in some parts. The world around the school and how it's structured is so detailed is just beautiful, I never really had any questions as to how the school is run, because it was all laid out before me, and that's what I love most in books is when I don't need to ask questions about the world because everything I need to know is right there.

Predictability: While there were many plot elements I could see from the beginning, but when the book gets about to the midway point it becomes harder to figure out what might happen next. As cliches and obvious plot devices are quickly debunked for a rather new and unique set of themes and surprises. I was really surprised by the originality and how at times it feel as though the author spoofs or pokes a bit of fun at classic tropes by turning them on their head, and make that character that you thought would change or be more profound really be who they are at face value.

Ending: Now the ending confused me a bit, mainly because it felt so much like an actual ending. The book was very much an enclosed story and aside from a fairly minor and trivial question or two I felt really satisfied with it, and honestly even though I know there's a sequel and I cannot wait to read it, in reality I don't feel like I need it right this second. I'm not sure how I feel about that though as I sort of miss that larger opening at the end of a story that allows for a more understandable and easily grasped sequel.


While I did enjoy this book a lot there were some really confusing aspects to the story and I felt as though some more ambiguous scenes needed a bit more clarifications, as well as some more solid supporting characters. Overall however I would definitely recommend reading it if you have a love for fairy tales and the ways that authors can reinterpret or further explore them.


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