As you probably know, I am a folk and fairy tale enthusiast. I took courses on fairy tales and storytelling while working towards my MLIS degree and they were some of my favourite courses in library school, so I’m always on the hunt for interesting spins on fairy tales.
The School For Good and Evil had an interesting premise: every four years, two children are taken from the village of Gavaldon and sent to the School For Good and Evil, where they learn to be fairy tale heroes and villains. Sophie, with her love of pink and dedication to doing good deeds, is sure she’ll be sent to the School for Good to become a fairytale princess and live happily ever after, while Agatha, with her cantankerous cat and hatred of nearly everyone, seems like a natural fit for the School for Evil. However, when the two girls are finally kidnapped, Sophie finds herself in the School for Evil and Agatha in the School for Good. Will they be able to rectify the mistake, or will they perhaps discover who they really are?
This sort of mistaken identity plot has been done before, but the idea of two schools that train fairy tale heroes and villains was intriguing. Unfortunately, there are several things that are so awful about this book that this very nearly ended up being a “Sturgeon’s 90%” title, and the only reason it avoided that dubious distinction was because it was somewhat readable.
I say somewhat, but really, this book was badly in need of an editor. The book is riddled with very awkward dialogue and sentence structure in general. It’s a lot of “The [noun] [verbed]” and that’s it, no description of any kind. Some word choices are just plain incorrect or unnatural (such as using the word “hailed” when “exclaimed” would have been a better choice), in the vein of “X bashed Y. Y fell over” it’s a very mechanical way of writing. It doesn’t flow or provide the reader with a lot of information, and the book definitely suffers for it. The dialogue is similarly structured, and there were multiple occasions where I found myself wondering what the heck the characters were actually saying. It’s just a mess all around. Apparently the author is involved in the film industry, which explains a lot. However, writing a screenplay uses a very different set of skills than writing a novel, and it definitely shows that just because you’re good at one form of writing doesn’t mean you’ll be great with another form.
You probably have an idea as to where the plot is going; the problem is that the characters themselves don’t want to accept the inevitable. Both Sophie and Agatha spend about 75% of the book insisting that they’re in the wrong school, and when they finally accept that they belong in their respective schools, the change is very abrupt. There’s not a whole lot of depth to the characters, but to be honest I could forgive that if they weren’t so one note in the most irritating way possible.
As if the writing and characterization weren’t bad enough, the book really has some sexism issues. Girls who attend the School for Good are taught to essentially wait around for boys to rescue them, and while Agatha does comment on how silly it is, nothing is really done to change the situation. It reaches its peak in the narrative during the ball that the School for Good hosts. In a nutshell, every student requires a date, boys who don’t have a date take half grades, girls who don’t have a date flunk, and students who flunk get turned into wolves or fairies and are forced to guard the other school. Also, don’t worry, queer friends! Apparently two princes going to the ball together is “silly”! Did I mention the book completely subverts it’s own message (that how we look doesn’t matter, it’s what we do) by having the villains magically become beautiful when they all become Good–which includes the only fat kid in the book becoming skinny? Even the twist on “true love’s kiss” at the end (which you will no doubt be familiar with if you’ve seen certain recent Disney movies) failed to impress me by the end, because I ultimately felt like the book was talking the talk but utterly failing to walk the walk.
It’s just such a trainwreck.
Honestly, this could have been a fun book–the premise was certainly interesting, but the issues start with the awful writing and it only gets worse from there. Part of me can’t believe this is being turned into a movie, but part of me isn’t that surprised. I don’t think I’ll be picking up the sequel to this one and I recommend skipping this and waiting for the collection of brand new fairy tales that have never been published in English to come out later this month because it looks like it will be an interesting read.