The School for Good and Evil
Harper, 2013 488 pages
School for Good and Evil Trilogy #1
Every four years two young people are spirited away in the middle of the night from the town of Gavaldon and taken to a special school to be trained as either a princess or a witch. Sophie has waited her whole life to begin her training as a princess and has made every arrangement to ensure an easy kidnapping by the storyteller. Meanwhile, her economically deprived best friend, Agatha, is determined to save her from danger. They both get taken away, but Sophie finds herself placed in the school for evil to be trained as a witch, while homely Agatha finds herself in the school for good for princess training. The girls are convinced there has been a mistake and set off to try to find the storyteller and have the error rectified. All princesses are expected to "capture" a prince to escort them to the big ball at the end of term or they will fail. Sophie sets her sights on Tedros, King Arthur's son, and will stop at nothing to win his heart, even if it means alienating all of the students on both sides of the moat. Sophie begins as a terrible student, but Agatha learns both the lessons for good and for evil and helps her friends out, even going so far as to aid her in the quest for Tedros. The story builds to a climax at the famous Circus of Talents, after which the princes are to prom-pose to their perspective dates for the ball. The circus does not go as planned when Sophie stages a massive demonstration for revenge. Will Sophie destroy the whole school and everyone in it? Will she ever be recognized as the princess she truly thinks she is? Who will Tedros ask to the ball? What is the real identity of the storyteller? And, most of all, can two two people from opposite sides of the moat work together and be friends?
This series has been very popular in my library and with a new companion trilogy about to be released I thought it was high-time I read the first. I think the sheer length of the volume kept me from reading it, but despite its heft, it reads rather quickly. This is in part due to the non-stop action and quickly moving plot and also to the humor sprinkled throughout the story making it both an exciting and enjoyable read. The length also allows for a great many characters of whom I had some difficulty keeping straight, but it never kept me from understanding the story-line and I basic knew who everyone was by the end. Rebooted fairy tales have become popular in recent years and this story uses some of the familiar devices and characters and twists them around in an entertaining way. Chainani gently pokes fun at the traditional fairy tale conventions, while also respecting the genre. He makes the point that all of us have both good and evil within us and what allows good to overcome evil is the ability for people to work together. He also demonstrates how people get uglier or more beautiful the more we get to know them and beauty stems from kindness and confidence. Critics have complained that the book is sexist since the princess's main intention is to capture a prince. The princesses in this story are no weaklings. They fight alongside the princes and Agatha proves herself to be both the cleverest and the bravest among all of the students. In the end Sophie and Agatha chose their friendship over the prince, setting convention on its ear. Perfect for fans of Harry Potter, it will appeal a bit more to girls, but boys will enjoy it as well if they give it a chance.