Series Review: The School for Good and Evil

I found this trilogy—at least the first two books (which was all that was available at the reading)—to be very, very confusing.SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL SERIES

Let’s get this established: I don’t confuse easily, especially when reading. The confusion with these books is three-fold, and it is reflected in the contradictory reviews. First, the plot it confusing. Second, the characters are confusing. And third, the whole point of the books is confusing. I could further break this down, but let’s just keep it at this.

What do these books do well? Marketing, clearly. Promises. And world-building. When you first encounter these book, they are likely to be standing out on an end cap in a book store, recommended by someone. They have lush covers with great illustrations, and the cover copy is a winner: two kids kidnapped every four years from a small village, and every time one is beautiful and good and one is odd and outcast. This time, the most beautiful child is busy trying to be extra good so she’ll get kidnapped and sent to school to become a princess. Meanwhile, the daughter of a witch is none to keen to go anywhere. The set-up continues: when they get to the school, the “princess” is enrolled in the School for Evil and the oddball in the School for Good.

SOMAN CHAINANILove it. The idea was really spectacular and even the world that Chainani creates is fun and engaging. You have these two opposing high schools training the good and evil to be fairytale characters, and bad grades can land you as a good or evil animal or sidekick. Throw in some fractured fairy tale, and this should have been a real winner.

I believe that some readers are still clinging to the idea behind the books, because what actually happens as the story continues (and continues and continues) is, like I said, confusion. The plot? Honestly, I had to re-read some sections because the narration is so spastic that I didn’t always know (or want to believe) what had just happened. Quite frankly, I’m good at interpreting/deciphering story, but this book? What made the most sense was often completely the opposite of what happened, and I don’t mean that in a good way. When something surprising happens in a story, it should on some level feel inevitable. The plot here was often willy nilly, slip shod, random. Something should have happened, and something else did. Or—which plenty of readers have pointed out—nothing happened or things happened in circles for much too long.

Characters? Everyone assumes that the moral of this series is that good and evil are not always how they appear. You imagine that Chainani is going to play with the conventional ideas of beauty, goodness, evil, and ugliness, and—super oddly—some readers end thinking that is what he did when he clearly didn’t. He instead gives us two main characters and many others who waffle back and forth between being one thing and being another while spouting truisms about themselves and each other that aren’t even believable. And the princesses are still boy-crazy and the witches still murder people. She’s good! (No, clearly she’s not.) He’s deeper than you think! (No way.) If Chainani had just let his characters be themselves after the first few chapters, the whole story would have gone a different, and less annoyingly zig-zag direction.

Because, let’s face it, the series ended when the first book ended. Writing a second and third book to undo the ending and re-write the outcome is just irritating to a good reader. What was this whole thing about, anyways? Well, I already addressed this, mostly.

Believe me, I approach every book wanting it to be amazing, even though I would be a little bit jealous if it was perfect. I don’t want to find a book laughable, unreadable, or disappointing. The first two books of the School for Good and Evil series do not, in any way except for world building, deliver on the promises or good reviews. What other reviewers have identified as a need to “cut” is really a need to be true to the characters and the inevitable moral of the set-up, or a lack of writing intuition. Instead, you get hundreds and hundreds of pages of confusing, mediocre, random narration that left me sincerely let-down.

I would not recommend this series. If they make a movie, it is possible they will be able to create a new story from the mess, and that might be pretty good.

MOVIE: Some years later (2023), I found The School for Good and Evil on a list I had made of YA adventure fantasy movies that I had made to give me certain vibes while I wrote a YA adventure fantasy trilogy. I remembered not liking the book series but thinking that it could make a good movie. So I watched it, despite pretty dismal reviews. Huh. On further research, I discovered that though the reviews are pretty abysmal, the movie has been popular and there is a strong likelihood the movie series will continue (possibly for even another two or three movies). I totally didn’t hate the first movie. True, it gets off to a rough start and there are definitely some cringe-worthy moments (especially with CGI) up front. But everything improves. And I found the acting, the world, the soundtrack. and the costumes (surrounded by emoji faces with hearts for eyes) to be really enjoyable. The story was much better than the original, in a pared-down, much-simplified version that actually had a point and a moral that made sense. Plus, (at least in the first movie) we get to have a friendship that is loving and even physically affectionate without having to call it homosexual and dang was that refreshing, and something I have been longing for contemporary books and movies to tackle (instead of doing the reverse and reading homosexuality into old, platonic stuff). Yay for friendship! Yay for friendship as a powerful, loving thing! Yay for physical contact that isn’t always sexual! Whew. All in all, if I’m being honest, I am bucking the trend of reviews here and saying I rather liked this movie. I would totally watch it again. I recommend it. I am going to list it in almost-favorites because, like I said, the soundtrack and COSTUMES. (Also acting and world and FRIENDSHIP.)

I read the first two books of the School for Good and Evil trilogy, by Soman Chainani, published by HarperCollins beginning in 2013. I only read the first two because that’s what was available when I read it. The final book is now available, but my daughter (as well as I) have outgrown the series. (NOTE: The series went on to have six books total, The School for Good and Evil, A World Without Princes, The Last Ever After, Quests for Glory, A Crystal of Time, and One True King, though the fourth, fifth and sixth are from a different “era” in the characters’ lives. There are other books being written in the same NeverEver universe, including a prequal duology, Rise of the School of Good and Evil and Fall of the School of Good and Evil.)

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