School For Good and Evil: World Without Princes by Sonan Chainani

The School For Good and Evil: A World Without Princes follows the pattern set in the first book: start at the village, off to the school, lead up to a trial, and end with a same-gender kiss. But a new villain is introduced and the girls find that there were huge ramifications for the fairy tale world after they left.

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Despite the interesting worldbuilding and great moments of humor (mostly thanks to observations/quips by Hester:  Sophie: “Something is missing here!” Hester muttering under her breath: “Your brain”), a lack of a central theme, moral, or author POV make this book a frustrating read. I had hoped the author was playing a longer end game and a message would appear to bring consistency to the story. But characters still alternate between powerful and weak, traditional and modern, morally ambiguous to morally absolute. A story about fairy tales really should itself have a lesson or principle contained within as well. In the very least, I wish the author debunked a lot of the antiquated morals of our favorite fairy tales (e.g., Cinderella complex, Peter Pan syndrome, etc.) in a humorous way. But clearly there is no interest in creatively skewing the fairy tale messages.

This second book in the trilogy continues where the story left off: Sophie and Agatha are back in their village but Agatha especially has changed greatly. In a moment of weakness, she wishes for Tedros and undoes the “The End” of their fairytale. Now the girls must return to the school and find a way to complete the fairytale again. But Sophie feels betrayed, is beginning to go witchy again, and the Agatha/Sophie story has caused the fairy tale realm to change – the moral of their story being that girls do not need princes to save themselves. A dangerous new dean of the girls school will test the girls and the boys at every turn.

The ambiguity of the messages in the overall arc continue to be problematic. In the first book, Agatha was very strong – using ingenuity, determination, and desire to save Sophie. In this book, she is greatly weakened as a character, spending most of her time moping or worrying. It was a shame to see her so ’emasculated.’  Sophie, who was weak for 99% of the last book and then suddenly becomes the most powerful witch in history – is now weak again for no apparent reason.  I wish the author had given her a reason to be so helpless: laziness, lack of motivation, etc. Because really, she’s pretty much drifting on the current of the story without much direction. As well, the whole ‘evil makes you ugly’ and ‘pretty = vapid and stupid’ makes a lot of the story feel meaningless and trite.

The only theme I could find in this book is that love and trust make people weak and end in betrayal every the time. All three main characters, Sophie, Agatha, Tedros, have faith and trust issues that are exacerbated here.  The author tries to bring it together at the end by blaming most of the problems on Sophie (who seems to betray every character she meets) but the lack of active participation in any of the betrayals by Sophie make that unrealistic at best. Sophie is simpleminded, not deluded or self centered as much, and so making her the ‘big evil’ is problematic. I’m still not seeing great evil, just selfishness.

The first book ended with the idea that girls don’t need princes to save them. Indeed, Agatha saved Sophie and herself over and over again in book one. This second book, in typical Chainani contrary fashion, reverses that and says the girls do need love and princes to be happy.  Contrarily, Agatha choosing the village over a fairy tale ending is now reversed and she chooses the fairy tale ending with Tedros.

Keeping the same plot across both books but completely reversing them may seem like a great conceit but it overemphasizes parts of the story – leaving the reader peeling a proverbial onion with tears and determination only to find nothing at the center.  E.g., if you have a same gender kiss in the first book and the girls saying they love each other, then repeat a same-gender kiss in the second book and hinge a lot of the plot on it, then one starts looking for a reason that plot point was so important as to replicate it. And the answer is, there is no message, moral, theme, or author POV to the kiss. He did it the first time as a quirk and then a second time to repeat the story outline (this time changing the gender). As a reader, I find that frustrating. I keep reading and looking for a great angle and never getting one.

The School For Good and Evil thus far has been the sweetest looking fondant cake in the bakery – beautifully designed and mouth watering. But like a display, it’s hollow in the middle and lacking a good foundation that would encourage readers to think and explore concepts. In the very least, all the switching back and forth of roles and plots should look purposeful, add to the story, and not appear to be random just to fit into a prefab mold of the author’s outline for the story. But the story has continued to be shallow.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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