Saturday, January 10, 2015

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

The School for Good and Evil 
by Soman Chainani

Published by: HarperCollins Publishers 
Publication Date: May 14, 2013

Format: ebook
Copyright: 2014
Pages: 512
Genre: Middle-Grade Fiction - Fairytale retelling
Source: own book

From Amazon:
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.

All I can say is good grief what a load of dingo's kidneys.

Fair warning, this might get a bit spoilery because this book just ticked me off so much. I am going to try and avoid giving away too much but I might let some things slip.

I have had this book shoved to my attention for what feels like ages, so when I saw it on sale at Amazon for $1.99, I finally decided to give it a go. I like fairy tale retellings and the premise sounded somewhat promising.

Turns out I should have given it a pass. Ugh what a wet mess.  The idea that the "ugly" girl is the good one and the "beautiful" girl is the evil one is not exactly groundbreaking here but has been treated as something amazingly subversive and trope upending by lots of reviewers out there. Okay - I was willing to give it a chance, considering much of the stuff that gets published, this sounded like it was at least going to be a chance of pace.

Turns out to be a throughly shallow treatment though because as the story progresses, 'good' girls get prettier and 'evil' girls get uglier - so much for that subversive idea. And for some reason the whole Evil School is populated by the unwashed, unkempt and imperfect, because clearly that all equals evil, right? Excuse me?  Some of the best fairy tale villains were quite beautiful or handsome. What the heck does lack of traditional beauty or inability to blend in with peers have to do with evil?

Someone failed Shakespeare - That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain 
                                                            — Hamlet Act 1, scene 5

The book gives lip service to the idea that actions speak louder than appearances, but doesn't actually make that happen in the plot. Not to mention the fact that the whole 'I want to be an evil villain just because!' thing has never made sense to me. There are some stabs at explaining motivations but they mostly fall flat because the worldbuilding is so nonsensical.

More Shakespeare !

I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace,
and it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to
fashion a carriage to rob love from any. In this, though I
cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be
denied but I am a plain-dealing villain. I am trusted with a
muzzle and enfranchised with a clog; therefore I have
decreed not to sing in my cage. If I had my mouth, I would
bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking. In the
meantime, let me be that I am, and seek not to alter me.
                                    — Much Ado About Nothing Act 1, scene 3

I completely hated the whole your soul is either all evil or all good - you were born that way - and there isn't anything you can do about it.  I managed to swallow it down and hope that this was going to be blown apart in the course of the story.

Speaking of inexplicable - apparently murder is common, right since it is common in fairy tales, but only the truly evil can be murders, so really murdering someone is too evil, except at the beginning of the book, and multiple times throughout actually, her roommates threaten, plan, attempt to murder Sophie. Then later in the book they act all shocked about the idea of murder. And someone does actually commit a murder but the only consequences are occasional feelings of nausea. Wait, what ?

And this kind of thing is true throughout the book. Every characters actions and motivations are whatever they need to be at that point in the narrative, never mind the fact that they were completely different just a few pages or even paragraphs ago.

The book starts out promisingly, laying out threads that could have gone somewhere - like perhaps the critical idea that the world isn't totally black and white, and really following through with the ugly does not equal evil. There were lots of ways that this could have been a really good book. It bailed on every single one of them. Sigh.

And the ending! ARGH! Mass slaughter but hey, everything is okay for 'our hero' so that equals 'happy ending' (such as it ended - it was pretty abrupt for such a long, wordy and repetitive book.)

However - at the very end of the book the way that the internal fairy tale ended, the trigger, I really liked that idea. Too bad it was tied up with the extremely harmful idea that good is always required to forgive - no matter how badly someone else has treated them or others - no matter how terrible someone else is. That is a recipe for abuse right there. 

And the writing was occasionally a bit of a train wreck. There were several places where I re-read sections of text that jumped from point A to point B like something critical and revealing had happened, but there was nothing connecting them. Either the ebook version is missing chunks of text or this book needed a much better editor.

Stuff like this (there are worse examples but they are all spoilers) ...

"The west doors flew open to sixty gorgeous boys in swordfight. 

Sun-kissed skin peeked through light blue sleeves and stiff collars; tall navy boots matched high-cut waistcoats and knotted slim ties, each embroidered with a single gold initial."

I flipped back and forth several times trying to find the rest of that first sentence. Just huh?

Sigh. No fun. No fun at all. I certainly am not interested in the second book and don't get why this one was so popular at all.

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