Review: The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Thursday, May 9, 2013
Title: The School for Good and Evil
Author: Soman Chainani
Genre: young adult, fantasy
Series: The School for Good and Evil #1
Pages: 496
Published: May 14 2013
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

At the School for Good and Evil, failing your fairy tale is not an option.

Welcome to the School for Good and Evil, where best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she'll earn top marks at the School for Good and join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.

The two girls soon 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 among 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 and Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one.

First of all, if the awesome book trailer for The School of Good and Evil is what created an interest in Chainani's fiction debut, all I can tell you is this:

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(Even watching that trailer now, after the fact, I am excited and impressed. And then I remember. And then woe.)

The book sadly doesn't live up to the awesomeness that advertised it. I'm not even a fan of book trailers, but the promotion department for this book deserves a big raise. The editing department might not. But, if you're just now hearing about this YA/MG fantasy about fairytales and witches and princesses, this might end up being the book for you. It's a tad long, a tad overwrought, but it's got a lot of heart and, at times, can be very entertaining. Soman Chainani creates a vibrant world with two interesting and diverse leads, and I can say they paths and plots he takes them through isn't predictable, though it can be a tad pedantic at times.  The comparisons to Gregpry Maguire's work is apt and appropriate and I can see his fans enjoying this less adult look at magical children.

The School for Good and Magic reminded me of a younger Harry Potter at times. There's the obvious: magical children spirited away for their edification (for either good or ill), there's the obvious good guys, the obvious bad guys, magical beings like werewolves, fairies, and a multi-headed dog inside a mysterious, hidden castle(s). There are pranks, a ball, a love story that is not what you expect, and in the end, a grand battle for the school itself. That all sounds well and good and like fun, and it can be. The main problem is that The School for Good and Evil takes too long to get anywhere. It becomes too predictable to shock readers and the final conflict... well, veered on deus ex machina. That's never a good way to resolve a story readers have spent so much time investing in.

This is a looooong book for almost any genre (I'm looking at you, Epic Fantasy), but for a very young YA/verging on MG fairytale, 496 pages is just much too much. The pacing lags, events feel drawn out or stretched beyond feasibility, and the plot takes too much time to really form. There's a lack of tension and suspense before key events because the author takes too long to develop any sort of meaningful conflict. Outside of plotting and pacing, Chainani is an obviously talented, very visual, writer. Scenes pop and creatures both big and small, humor or non, all burst from the page. The School for Good and Evil can project an image, but fails to deliver real substance to go with how pretty/evil everything is on the surface.

The main characters are adaptable, and pretty well-rounded. There's more to both Sophie and Agatha than what meets the eye, and the author's switcheroo can be pretty clever. However, like most things in this novel, the realizations that come to both girls about their roles in future fairy tales takes far too long to foment into something meaningful. I could have done without the romances that pop up and complicate the girls' relationship and the plot, but Prince Charmings (and Not So Charmings) are to be expected in a novel so concerned with fairytales. The characters are another strong aspect of the novel, and I'm curious to see what will happen after the final events of book one.

The School for Good and Evil isn't a bad book. It's just not as good as you, or I, or that book trailer want it to be. Those looking for a saccharine-ly sweet Disney tale should look elsewhere, and readers in search of a vibrant setting with complex and contradictory characters will find The School for Good and Evil a good fit. There's some room for improvement, and editing, but Soman Chainani has a satisfactory beginning to his new series.


  1. Nooo!! I wanted this to be awesome! Oh well. I'll still snag it. That cover....I have to have it.

    1. That cover is amazing. I might be tempted into a paperback when they come out. It's gorgeous and I could always let my sister borrow it for her class.

  2. This book!!! Everyone keeps talking about it (think the new EW gave it an A.) It's funny because I had the complete opposite reaction to you! I thought it COMPLETELY delivered on the trailer and that it actually could have been even longer. It moved so fast and I read it in less than two days. (My brother, who is 13, read it in one and loved it.) So... I don't think it's a case of lowering expectations. I also didn't see any deus ex machina at the end. It felt like all the twists were traced back all the way through... Eh. I still hold onto it as the best kids' book of the year so far.

    1. It does seem to be everywhere at the moment, doesn't it? The marketing team is working their ass off, I can tell.

      I'm glad you had so much fun with it, though I didn't have the same enjoyment. I read it in two days, but I felt like the read draaaaagggged on and on. Especially the first half.

      As for children's book of the year, I'd pick A Face Like Glass over this any day, but to each their own!


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