Ashana Lian's Fantasy Lab



Fantasy and Fantasy Writing from every angle: fantasy and sci-fi novels, films, artwork, superhero cartoons, children's and YA books, manga, anime, video games and comics. Put the microscope on 'Geek Culture'.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Children's Book: The School For Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

OH MY GOD, MY HATE ACHES!!!

Oops, I mean my heart. =] After feeling completely irritated and miserable on having my hopes destroyed over Throne Of Glass, last night I read another story that kept me up to half 5 in the morning. I've been curious for a long while, though I was unsure about reading it as it's a children's book. But I haven't had so much fun reading a book in SO LONG!

I am happy beyond words and here is my review.



Just a reminder, this is a spoiler review. 

This book, in terms of plot twists, is INCREDIBLE. As always, I'm looking at it from a fantasy analysis perspective, so I will divulge some of them. But I really recommend you to read it it first, now you know in advance I gave it five stars.

If you want a surprisingly wild and gripping children's fantasy tale, then read the book before you read this analysis, or read another review without any spoilers, which I'm sure will be plenty.


The School For Good and Evil analysis

Image: goodreads.com
Author: Soman Chainani
Publisher: Harper Collins
Published: 2013
Fantasy Sub-Genre: Childrens'

Blurb:
Every four years two children are stolen away from Gavaldon, never to return.  Most children fear being taken away to the School for Good and Evil.  But not Sophie...

She has dreamt all her life of being a princess and believes the school could be her chance.

Her best friend Agatha has other ideas.

When the two girls are taken, things don't go quite to Sophie's plan.

Because sometimes, the princess and the witch don't look like they do in fairytales.



This is another one of those Blurb-Is-Different-On-Every-Site books...

So here's the plot. Sophie is an ambitious 12(?) year old girl who had basically prepared herself to go to the School For Good And Evil since day one, although all the other children in her town are terrified of being taken. She befriends a girl called Agatha who's been ostracised by the rest of their little town. Agatha, touched to have finally made a friend, doesn't not realise that Sophie's kindness was her attempt to do a good deed, so she would be noticed by the school master and taken to the S.F.G.A.E.

They do in fact both get snatched, but when they arrive there's an awful mistake - Sophie is put in the School of Evil alongside the sons and daughters of troll, witches and hags; while miserable, suspicious Agatha is put in the School of Good alongside princesses, fairies and fairy godmothers.

First thing's first. For a children's book, I was stunned by how complex this story is. It's as complex as any fantasy book out there, which is why it took me pretty much seven straight hours to read it - I started just after 10pm. I literally (okay, figuratively), COULD - NOT - PUT - THIS - DOWN. There are so many twists in the story I'm a bit scared about revealing all in my usually frank reviews! For once, I don't even want to spoil it for the sake of fantasy analysis - I WANT EVERYBODY TO GO AND READ IT NOW!


Why I loved this book to PIECES

1. Nostalgia.
This story is about fairy tales and much of it relies on your personal knowledge of Disney or classic folk fairytales. With that basis, Soman Chainani really had fun with this concept and naturally EVERYTHING revolves around it; their classes, the way the students behave, their powers, and on. (Again, in the wake of T.O.G., I felt (guiltily) relieved this wasn't a YA, or this whole story might've gone down the toilet.)


2. Putting puns on the mythology.
There's so much to say for this. The students of the School for Evil are called Nevers, and Evers at the School for Good. Animal companions for Nevers include orges, troll, demons, boars and dragons, while the Evers are more likely to have the cute fluffy animals.

Sophie's Schedule (Her dorm is Malice 66)
  1. Uglification
  2. Henchmen training
  3. Curses and Death traps
  4. History of Villainy
  5. Lunch
  6. Special Talents
  7. Surviving Fairy Tales
Agatha's Schedule (Her dorm is Purity 51)
  1. Beautification
  2. Princess Etiquette
  3. Animal Communication
  4. History Of Heroism
  5. Lunch
  6. Good Deeds
  7. Surviving Fairy Tales

In each class, the 20 students are ranked from 1 to 20 based on their performance, and Sophie earns herself a notorious reputation by earning something like four 1's in a row in her first few classes, despite pleading she's meant to be a Princess. Earning '20' three times in a row is an immediate failure and a mortifying punishment, and nobody knows what it is so the threat looms over everyone.


3. School Politics
Who doesn't love a good boarding school story? When Sophie and Agatha arrive, they're flung into school politics where naturally the Nevers and Evers hate each other, but also the Nevers are extremely bitter that Evil has never won a Fairy Tale in two hundred years. In Sophie's class, Lady Lesso referenced many tales where evil wins to boost the morale of the class, but these stories oly exist in other realms and in the real world of 'Woods Beyond', where Sophie and Agatha come from, the only heard-of tales are the predictable classics where good wins; Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White and so on.

There another thing that's amazing. Because Agatha looks and behaves like someone who belongs in the School for Evil, while Sophie firmly believes she is meant to be Princess in the School for Good -

(for pretty much half of the book! I was amazed it was so long before she got annoying, I'd snap far quicker in a YA. And that reminds me of something else. Remember I said Celeana was unbearably childish? Funny thing about that. Sophie is similar, but Sophie is actually a child - with a deluded ambition. Celaena is a seventeen year old master assassin. See why I got a bit pissed off?)

- their respective peers don't like them either, so they're very stuck. Sophie tries an unbelievable number of methods to prove she should be a Princess, and she's repulsed by the villains and murderers she has to share rooms with, who are children of the same. Agatha wants to return to her cat and her home, and keeps trying to prove that she doesn't belong in the S.F.G.A.E. at all. The other princesses repulse her, as does all the perfume and pink and the arrogant, valiant princes.

Here's where it gets funny. Even the students of the school believe there's been a mistake, including Prince Tedros, the top-of-the-class, high-achieving son of the late King Arthur, takes a shine to Sophie and insists there must be some mistake. That's until Sophie starts being able to do incredible things with her powers in terms of evil and earns respect from her peers, and the hate of the former class champ Hester, now her rival. Sophie, who didn't want to be there at all, makes a pact with Hester that if she can prove Sophie's meant to be a Princess, then she'll get her old spot as class queen back. Meanwhile Agatha fails at most of her classes, poor etiquette, poor beautification and everything else, until she accomplishes something amazing. Beatrix, the most beautiful girl of the Princesses, doesn't like Agatha from the start, and the more she achieves the less Beatrix likes her.


4. SO MANY TWISTS!
The drama is so complex, with unpredictable twists and turns and the social climate making it impossible to predict who'll believe who and who will turn on who next. They're clever, fun, and so hilarious that I laughed through sooo much of it. Sometimes I had to remember it was the middle of the night and hush up.

Sophie was smitten with Prince Tedros from the beginning and their relationship goes on a roller coaster, with one extremely interesting bit when Sophie pretends to embrace evil to become popular while also trying to be compassionate and 'good' to win Tedros over, and they do actually become very close which breaks a LOT of both Schools' status quo. As a result, EVERYONE hates them. Nevers hate Tedros because he's a Prince and Sophie because she's a traitor. Likewise, Evers hated Sophie for being a Witch and were also disgusted with Prince Tedros for having the audacity to date one. It was so unforeseen that I just LOVED how everything came to a head in such a way. The tide does change eventually, but I am not giving away ANY MORE of the juicy bits - there are a hell of a lot more!



5. Humour
This book is HILARIOUS. It's one of the reasons I just couldn't put it down.
The first lesson was "Princess Posture", which involved the girls descending the four tower staircases with nests of nightingale eggs on their heads.Though most of the girls succeeded without breaking any eggs, Agatha had a harder time. There were a number of reasons for this: a lifetime of slouching, Beatrix and Reena intently watching her with their new Kinder Smiles, her mind chattering that Sophie would win this with her eyes closed, and the absurdity of a dog barking about posture while teetering on goat legs. In the end, she left twenty eggs bleeding yolk on marble. 
"Twenty beautiful nightingales who will not have life... because of you," said Pollux. (p.114, The School For Good And Evil)
I don't know why I found this so insanely hilarious; I was in tears of laughter at the time. That said, it's funnier in context (Pollux was kinda meant to be the nice head of the two-headed dog), and also I do find things funnier at night.


6. Comfort
This is a story about children. And for children. There are many elements of unpredictability but one thing that's always the same is the characters, or should I say the type of characters. In this way, Sophie was predictable in her nature and that was comforting. At the same time, the circumstances of the story kept altering so much that it soon kept me on edge wondering what this turn of events would lead her to.


7. Nasty Twists
Different from point 4 above, because now I'm not just talking about intrigue but the truly WOAH stuff. Poetic justice in this book is certainly skewed. Another thing I loved about this story was including the grim side of fairy tales on a very real level. When Agatha grants a wish at the fountain in one of her classes, she wishes for the fish to be freed. When she does, she realises with horror that all the animals at the school - including the fairies at the School for Good, wolves at the School for Evil, and gargoyles that guard the schools - were all failed students. And so their punishment for failing is revealed - a lifetime of serving the other side.

There's a lot of death threats hanging about! One teacher called Yula gave an example of a Princess and Prince recently married on their honeymoon, and I think they were killed in the woods! I was like woah! Kids book, really?

One of my favourite nasty twists is that the student of the School for Good aren't really very 'good' at all; Princesses are... well, bitches, and the Princes are extremely shallow and egotistic. The girls gossip and say mean things about Agatha, they can be vain and self-centred, despite trying at all times to to do 'good deeds'. Likewise, the Nevers can be really kind to each other and stick up for their friends, and not always for their own gain. This is in spite of 'evil only fighting for themselves, and good fighting for their friends'. I wish I could find the exact quote for you guys but I've lost the page now!


8. Finally - Extras
Scenes I really loved was Agatha's freeing the fish; and Sophie's asking the golden goose for a wish and the goose deciding would rather give up its power than help her (it figuratively 'died' and becomes a normal goose). I loved the bridge, and how every time Agatha had to outwit her own reflection in the barrier to secretly smuggle past it to the School for Evil to see Sophie. I love how Tedros is annoying and yet still lovable, even though the entire story he switches between the perfect, charming kind prince, and the arrogant a-hole of a prince who is pompous and snaps at people.

Also - Agatha is supposed to be 'ugly', but on the book cover she's ADORABLE! Why?! Is she so adorable?!?!?!



Ending
One the story starts leading up to the ball, that is when the biggest twists finally drop. I'm hesitant to reveal even a little - about who is truly good and who is truly evil, about the School Master's secret plan all along (that was AMAZING!!), and about how the ball DOES take place but not how anybody expects. It was incredible how we get to see what happens when Good becomes Evil and Evil becomes Good. I. Just. Love. It.

There's this awful/wonderful bit with that hopeless boy Tedros (sigh, poor Tedros) when he is tricked once again into doubting his judgment and he shoots an arrow that would've killed Agatha. I think I was on the floor gasping with shock when that happened. But I'm not telling the specifics! Go and read it!

The twist the veeery end had me going CRAZY, but I just won't share, not even for the good of the fantasy literature realm!


The Verdict

*****
5 Sha's!!

I loved this story to pieces and pieces. Its hilarious, heartwarming, and extremely, extremely imaginative. It surprised me in a big way, firstly because I couldn't put it down and as I finish typing this it's 6.20am, and second because it was one of those laugh-and-gasp-out-loud type of books, which I haven't read in a long while. The second book, A World Without Princes, is in my basket and the MOMENT payday lands, I'm buying it. I cannot WAIT until it gets here.

I feel like such a kid again!


Image: goodreads.com

Fantasy Food For Thought

I wanted to do an FFFT on Fairy Tales, on Good and Evil, and on the Dark Side of Children's Fantasy, but I am TOO. EXHAUSTED. Perhaps another time!


Aftermath

I'm amazed. This book became the third book I read in a week. By chance, I picked up two I adored and now I'm smashing my target! Oh, er, I mean, I target I shouldn't have... I'm relaxing now. Remember? No targets. Too stressful.


Ashana Lian .

4 comments:

  1. Ooooh, now I'm intrigued! I'd seen this in my local bookshop and had been tempted, but worried it wouldn't work for me. But 5/5?!? Okay, I am going to be hunting this one down now.

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