This is a follow up article to last month’s review over The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani. Chainani’s first book centered around Agatha and Sophie, two friends who were kidnapped from their town, and taken to the School for Good and Evil. Beautiful Sophie was placed in the school for evil, while spunky Agatha was placed in the school for good. The story revolved around both girls trying to switch schools, until it became clear they were exactly where they needed to be. Sophie gave in to her selfishness, and transformed into a horrible witch, while Princess Agatha had to defend the school from the ensuing attacks.
At the end of the story Agatha had a choice to save and return to the town with Sophie, or to stay with her prince, Tedros. Agatha chooses Sophie and the two are transported back to town to live “happily ever after.”
Agatha still wants her prince, and makes a wish to be back with him, thus inciting the events of the sequel A World Without Princes.
In this installment, Agatha unknowingly re-opens the portal between worlds because of the strength of her wish, and the two girls are taken back again. This time, things are different. No longer are witches and princesses enemies–this time it’s men who are the enemy. (Yes, you read this right. I had to set down the book and groan when I read that part, so I understand if you need a moment.)
Because of Agatha’s choice to return with Sophie at the end of the first book, princesses from all parts of the enchanted world are throwing their husbands out, or “asserting” their rights to rule alone. This, of course, makes the men angry and hostile, and the general notion is that in order to get balance restored, Agatha and Sophie need to be killed.
To make matters worse? The one leading the charge to restore order is Tedros, Agatha’s prince. He believes that he must kill the “witch” in order to win the heart of his princess, and Agatha is told she must either choose Sophie again, or kiss Tedros. Again, Agatha is caught between her best friend and her true love, and there is no easy way out of the situation. To raise the stakes, Tedros, believing that Agatha has betrayed him puts a price on her head, and Sophie may or may not be showing symptoms of turning back into the evil witch.
It’s up to the two best friends to restore balance in the kingdoms, or a full out war will ensue between men and women.
The biggest problem is the fact that the series target audience is children aged 7-12. This book was sold in the children’s section of Barnes and Noble. Chainani’s first book focused on blurring the lines of good and evil, and this one focused on blurring the lines between gender roles. These books are too old for their target audience, and promote moral and gender confusion at an age where children are bombarded from all angles with the confusion of just growing up. They don’t need more confusion from the books they read. Chainani’s writing, being hailed as original and a fresh look at fairy tales borrows troupes from classic fairy tales and twists them into a “modern” perspective. The books are too long, with the endings springing up quickly from drawn out middle scenes. Character development is minimal, while sentence structure is confusing, and dialogue is cliché. Chainani’s immature writing style muddles any message he would send to the reader.
On the topic of muddled messages:
First of all, readers see that Agatha’s choice set off a chain reaction she never intended. When the girls return to the school, they see it split, not into good and evil, but into the boy’s school and the girl’s school. All the girls whether from the “good” or “evil” side are allowed into the school for girls, and are also allowed to do whatever they want with their appearance. Princesses can have mohawks, and witches can try to improve their appearance. Girls are encouraged to read, study art, play instruments, and better their minds. This should be a good change, but it makes the girls hard, cruel, and they are encouraged to be both men and women in attitude. Their femininity is now perceived as weakness. Meanwhile, the boys school disintegrates into hormonal chaos, as there is no softening element to “hold the boys in check.”
Agatha, like the reader wonders why girls couldn’t improve their minds, strengthen their bodies, and still be feminine? Why couldn’t boys work alongside their princesses, without being pushed out? Sophie even asks the question of “Why can’t a girl have both a best friend and a prince?”
Neither men nor women were portrayed in a great light in this story. The men were violent, and the women power hungry. I don’t even know why Agatha wanted to be with her Prince so much. He was shown throughout most of the story to be focused on the fact that because his mother betrayed the family when he was a young child, that every woman must betray him. He is too full of bitterness and distrust to have a healthy relationship, and the author presents “true love’s kiss” as the healing element. That is not a good message to be sending out to young girls. “Oh just kiss him, and all of his bitterness will melt away.” Not likely.
Sophie, throughout the story, is afraid of losing her best friend to a prince and will therefore do anything to keep the two apart. She is not doing this for Agatha’s benefit, but for selfish reasons. She believes that if Agatha has a prince, then their friendship will be over. She does everything in her power to prove she’s changed, that she is not evil, but her actions still come from a place of self-protection.
At the end of the story, Agatha is again given a choice: Tedros or Sophie, and this time she chooses Tedros. What is alarming, is that the aftermath of that choice makes the reader question if her decision was correct. Sophie, heartbroken, runs straight into the arms of the series villain, and the last line of the book reads: “…two girls now pulled apart like strangers, each in the arms of a boy, Good with Good, Evil with Evil…”
It is a terrible thing to instill in children from an early age that they must “choose” between friendship and romantic love like it’s a choice of life or death. The author is trying to create an edgy fairy tale for children, but is leaving out the redemption, the solidity of friendship, and the beauty of real love. Everything is tainted with lust, ambition, and selfishness.
Perhaps the final installment will clear some of this up, but as of now, both books in the series have left a negative impression with me. I wish I could encourage the reading of these stories because it is a creative idea, but the poor writing style combined with the inappropriate material for the age level forces me to encourage readers to let this one pass by.