It has taken a while, but I have just finished reading The School for Good and Evil (Book One) by Soman Chainani. I first came across this book through my youngest sister. It was earlier in the year, whilst I was spending a lot of time around my family due to a family situation that required my pitching in. She showed me two books she had bought. As someone who is constantly trying to encourage her to read more often, so she can speak with confidence in public, I paid close attention. Though I now can’t remember what the other book was, the other was The School for Good and Evil.
I googled it, researching it and finding out that it was a bit of a big deal in the US. It turns out it’s almost unheard of in the UK where I am. Curious, I explored further, checking out Soman’s official site for it (lovely bells and whistles). Then I looked for it on Kobo. Kobo failed me because I was in the UK, so I grabbed a sample on Kindle.
It was a breath of fresh air, in part to be reading a new book, and an author I didn’t know, but also because the first chapter gripped me so tightly I just had to purchase the whole ebook. The School for Good and Evil is about the friendship of two girls, Agatha and Sophie, good and evil and fairytales. As you might expect, boys are thrown in. Nothing makes a great good versus evil story like a strong whip of jealousy. These girls are kidnapped by the headmaster and end up in a school (technically two schools that are entwined). One side for the protagonists (Evers, in the School for Good), and one side for antagonists (Nevers, the School for Evil). Unfortunately, the girls feel they are on the wrong sides, and are struggling to cross into the sides they feel they belong.
It’s going to be very hard not to give spoilers from here, so if you don’t want spoilers, know that it is an enjoyable read, but does not make me gush as much as the fantasy stories I love recommending. It’s only just reached my being comfortable recommending it.
At Chapter Nine, I lost complete interest, and started reading Evensong by Krista Walsh, which kept my attention quite firmly. (Check out the review for that here.) However, when I finished Krista’s story, I returned to reading The School for Good and Evil, because I wanted to see how things would progress. At first, upon returning to it, I found it confusing. For some reason I thought Agatha had been called Tabitha in the earlier chapters. Name association there, I’m sure.
Forging on, I soon grew used to Agatha being called Agatha but was instead caught in a web of, “Who is that secondary character again? Which school is she aligned to?” This continued throughout the rest of the read, though after a while I managed to just start figuring out who the one with rats was and the one with the spell for chocolate. Don’t ask me if they were in the classes for Evil characters (Nevers) or Good characters (Evers), because I couldn’t figure it out as I kept reading, and I didn’t want to go back and reread. Soon I got used to not knowing who was who out of the others (although I remembered who Hort, Beatrix, Teddy, Kiko and Chaddick were thankfully, but they were more often used with a clear allegiance to their side, so it wasn’t hard). Thinking about it, the confusion was mostly around the roommates of Sophie and Agatha.
Continuing to read, the book started to lull, and didn’t pick up again until the Trial of Tale (Chapter Twenty-One). By this point I was rooting for two characters: Agatha and Tedros (Tedros is an Ever prince, the son of Arthur of Camelot, and Ever Captain). At one point, Tedros is in peril, and I was relieved at the outcome. (Kudos, Soman!)
Additionally, I also felt emotion towards Agatha, when she was answering a test about going to a ball, adding comments to her answers in a defeated manner. I felt sorry for her and my eyes watered a bit too. I remember feeling like that in upper school sometimes. (Not about balls though, thankfully. I wasn’t invited to my year’s one when in school, and I was happy about it too.)
The true evil character’s becoming evil was swift, potentially too swift, but the story’s underlying message that a person can be good or evil by their actions, suggests that this is on purpose. I would have liked to see the evil character’s transformation a little more closely after discovering her captaincy for the Nevers. Similarly, the dreams she had which revealed her Nemesis were not scary as they should have been. It would have been really nice to read something gross or creepy, instead of endless halls and the other elements of the Nemesis Dreams.
One of my favourite scenes was The Circus of Talents (Chapter twenty-six). There was a lot of description here, but not enough to slow the story. I’m a fan of description – I like being able to visualise what the author can see in their mind’s eye. What unfolded in the circus was great, and reminded me strongly of fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.
Another great scene was the one in which the evil character started wrecking the school. About time! All these good and evil characters, and the school only suffered a few burnt plants, water damage and a dead gargoyle in the first twenty-six chapters?
The story’s crescendo as it grew closer to the end became louder and louder, events becoming more and more gripping. Tedros and the other Evers were tricked into becoming Nevers by the main character who was really evil, a war having started between good and evil in Chapter Twenty-Seven. Then all hell let loose, and there was frantic biting and fighting, and a pretty interesting twist at the end involving the school headmaster.
However, with how the book ended, I’m curious about the next book and how that pans out. I really like the ending right up until the very last bit (when Sophie and Agatha are whisked away).
Weaknesses of The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
- Some of the writer’s style jarred me out of “reader mode.” Several chapters had sentences in brackets, of characters talking or of narrative. In the end, I had to guess that this was done to be more like the author whisper in your ear, or an aside, but I’m not sure.
- A lot of the early half of the book could have done with more description. I couldn’t visualise a lot of the first few chapters due to a low amount of it.
- I didn’t care about the characters until about Chapter Seventeen.
- The evil character’s quick slide into being evil was too sudden.
- The scene with Dot in the boy’s toilets reminded me too much of Harry Potter.
- The school master reminded me too much of Peter Pan.
Strengths of The School for Good and Evil by Somain Chanani
- I ended up caring about Agatha and Tedros, which I didn’t expect.
- The idea of the Storian (a pen that writes fairytales) was well presented and pretty neat.
- The way Agatha and Sophie came to understand which sides they were on was nicely revealed (even if the Never’s descent into being evil was quick and too readily accepted).
- I’m glad it wasn’t a love story, though there are elements of a love triangle (rather wonky one too) in it.
- The imagination of the author comes through very strong in the book.
- The ending was pretty awesome (except for that very last bit, but I suspect that was for book two’s benefit).
My Additional Note for the Author, Soman Chanani
I really enjoyed this book as I dug in, from around Chapter Twelve onwards. It’s a very strong debut book, and the first I’ve read since a kid that read like a fairy tale. Thank you for writing this. I will undoubtedly grab the next book and add it to my TBR pile.