Book Review # 52: The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Sunday, 19 July 2015
Title: The School for Good and Evil
Author: Soman Chainani
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: June 6th 2013
Pages: 488

Source: Bought
PurchaseThe Book Depository / Waterstones

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.

When I discovered Soman Chainani's 'The School for Good and Evil' I knew right away I had to pick it up. I'm a huge sucker for anything fairytale related so when I realised that this was a middle grade novel that broke the dimensions of what defined good and evil I jumped for literal joy. The premise of the book sounds so intrinsic! When a princess and a witch are switched schools, they have to discover things about themselves that they never once knew. Now, as much as I loved this novel there were also a couple of issues I had with it, primarily with how complex the novel was. So putting the brief overview behind, what did I think of it overall?

Chainani's School for Good and Evil is an extremely unique concept that I haven't seen done before. It takes the normal conventions of what define good and evil and literally turns them on their head. One of the things I definitely did not expect in this book was the overall tone. Being pitched at middle grade and targeting the fairy tale genre I expected Chainani's work to be riddled with sweet and timeless classic moments that we quite often see replicated in Disney-fied adaptations of these popular tales. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Chainani definitely goes back down the Brother's Grimm route with the tone of these novels as some of the scenes were extremely dark. I mean, you have one character physically drowning another - this was not something I expected at all! A poisoned apple at least! Saying that however, the tone worked really well for the story as it gradually began to progress from the beginning as it tied in to the development of each of the characters.

This book is very difficult to place into a singular column in terms of the pacing because I feel it varied throughout the novel. In the beginning it was extremely fast paced and had me completely hooked and pulled into the story, but as the classes started commencing and the girls started to wander about the school, I found myself to be getting a tad bored. The pace dropped dramatically and I seriously found myself forcing my way through the story to get to the parts where the pace shot up again. I don't think the large quantity of characters with very similar names (and especially the teachers) helped with this scenario, because I found myself constantly having to flip back to work out who was who, and eventually ended up writing down a list that I kept beside me. With so many extremely similar characters I felt like I would have liked a glossary at the back to keep me refreshed. This would have saved so much hassle when it came to the finale later on in the book, because this was definitely something that I struggled with.

As for the characters I did understand, I really enjoyed them. Especially with how interesting the two main protagonists were, Agatha and Sophie. I definitely found myself enjoying Agatha's character a lot more than Sophie's, purely because I found Sophie to be extremely unlikable with her self-centred attitude and victorian attitude. Saying this, as the novel progressed and Sophie delved into her evil side, I found myself to really enjoy her. She became careless, sassy and extremely dramatic which worked really well for her character. Even if she did sadistically murder a bunch of people. Although our protagonists have returned to their hometown and Sophie has chosen goodness, part of me hopes that we get to see her evil side come out again because if the second book is a replica of the first in terms of Sophie moaning in the beginning then I think I'll be quite turned off. As for Agatha, I really enjoyed her character and the progressive journey she went on to accepting herself. It was definitely an important lesson to have in the story and I'm glad Chainani included that in there. Agatha was sarcastic, blunt and to the point and her character could not have been improved - I loved her. 

So overall this was a really fun and engaging take on the fairytale genre. It has set up a lot of things for the following sequels so I'll be interested where this story could take us from here. I award The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani 3 out of 5 stars on my classification scale. If you love fairytales, you'll definitely want to give this one a try!

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