Friday, May 10, 2013
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
Go ahead -- judge The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani by its cover, because this is a book that really wanted to be a manga series. Not that there's anything wrong with wanting to be a manga series -- but I'll get into the issues I had with this book after a quick summary:
Every four years, two children are stolen from the isolated little town of Gavaldon by a mysterious Schoolmaster. One is taken to the School for Good, the other to the School for Evil . . . and there they become the stuff that fairy tales are made of. Parents lock their children away -- the unusually bad children do surprising, uncharacteristic good works, the preternaturally good ones go around making messes and pinching their siblings. None of them want to be taken away . . . except for Sophie. Sophie can hardly wait. She's always known that, deep inside, she was a princess. Surely the Schoolmaster will see that as well, and take Sophie to the School for Good where she can meet her perfect Prince Charming. But has she been good enough? In an attempt to up her standing on the Nice List, Sophie befriends outsider Agatha, who wears a lot of black and lives next to a graveyard. Agatha doesn't necessarily believe in the schools, and she certainly doesn't want to go there -- but even her mother believes that Agatha, if she were chosen, would land squarely in the School for Evil. So, imagine the two girls' surprise when Agatha finds herself chosen for the School for Good, and Sophie ends up in the School for Evil. Agatha's main goal is to get herself and Sophie out of their schools and back to Gavaldon before something dreadful befalls them -- you see, she quickly learns what happens to students who are not successful. Sophie, on the other hand, is determined to make her way to the School for Good (she even has her Prince Charming picked out) and nothing, not friendship or magic or a host of fakey-nice Mean Girls at the School for Good, will stand in her way. To top it off, what Sophie and Agatha don't know is that there are forces at work at the Schools that neither of them understand . . . and they are about to get swept into something much larger than just two girls spirited off to school. . . .
So, that sounds promising, right? Well, the first bit of the book is good enough . . . but once the girls get to the school, it goes downhill. One of the main problems is the length, or to be precise, the amount of wasted space in the main portion of the book, where Agatha tries to convince Sophie to go home, and Sophie hatches another scheme to get into the School for Good. Over and over again. There's an entire school year to fill, and while some of the girls' adventures are exciting, they also felt repetitive to me. To top it off, the ending of the book is massively confusing. Then, the writing is not as great as one might expect from the impressive author bio and the number of big-name book blurbers this title attracted. The story has definite visual/cinematic elements, but there were times when I could almost feel the author's frustration at not being able to just express visually what was going through his mind. And this led to action sequences (particularly at the end of the book) that were extremely jumpy and confusing. As manga, it would almost definitely have been more successful; as a film (I hear it has already been optioned) I think it will be spectacular. As a book, it just didn't do it for me. Much as it pains me to say such a thing, my recommendation on this one is to skip the book and just wait for the movie.
(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)