Title: The School for Good and Evil
Author: Soman Chainani
Series: The School for Good and Evil #1
Genre: MG Fantasy
Received for review from NetGalley
Summary (from Goodreads)
“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…?
I’ll admit, I was quite excited about reading this one. I’d heard quite a lot of hype, and from reading the blurb – fairy tales, battle between good and evil, magic school – it was sounding like all the good things in Middle Grade fantasy rolled into one.
My first surprise came when I realised how long the book was. I thought my Kindle was playing up again when it took me loads of pages to complete a single percent. My second surprise came, several percent later, when I realised that for all the chunkiness of the tome, nothing really happened.
Well, lots of stuff happened, but it was all much the same sort of stuff. So much so that I actually started to get bored.
I guess publishers are aware that keen ten year olds are devouring Twilight and Harry Potter’s lengthier episodes, and are more prepared to take risks with book length – which is great – but there’s really no need for this book to be quite so long. The point could have been made in much fewer chapters.
That’s not to say that there weren’t elements I enjoyed. The characters were great, particularly Sophie, who is a morally challenging creation who will probably (hopefully) prompt much discussion between 10-12 year old readers. The background characters were great too – inevitably two dimensional, but the fun sort of two dimensional, full of colour and humour and spirit.
The setting was also great. The twin schools oozed with the menace of the mysterious School Master, and there was plenty of tantalising suggestion that things weren’t all ‘Happily ever after’ behind the scenes.
But my third surprise came when I realised it wasn’t a standalone novel, but the first of a trilogy. The ending was so abrupt and out of nowhere, it gave me cause to wonder if my Kindle was playing up again. And I’m wondering, with the first book being so bloated around the middle, what else there can possibly be to sustain another 800 pages?
I’m sure there will be many children out there who will devour this and really enjoy, because they’ve been told they will. But the more discerning twelve-year-old might be left feeling a little cheated. I’m not twelve, but it was certainly how I felt.