(Even watching that trailer now, after the fact, I am excited and impressed. And then I remember. And then woe.)
The book sadly doesn't live up to the awesomeness that advertised it. I'm not even a fan of book trailers, but the promotion department for this book deserves a big raise. The editing department might not. But, if you're just now hearing about this YA/MG fantasy about fairytales and witches and princesses, this might end up being the book for you. It's a tad long, a tad overwrought, but it's got a lot of heart and, at times, can be very entertaining. Soman Chainani creates a vibrant world with two interesting and diverse leads, and I can say they paths and plots he takes them through isn't predictable, though it can be a tad pedantic at times. The comparisons to Gregpry Maguire's work is apt and appropriate and I can see his fans enjoying this less adult look at magical children.
The School for Good and Evil reminded me of a younger Harry Potter at times. There's the obvious: magical children spirited away for their edification (for either good or ill), there's the obvious good guys, the obvious bad guys, magical beings like werewolves, fairies, and a multi-headed dog inside a mysterious, hidden castle(s). There are pranks, a ball, a love story that is not what you expect, and in the end, a grand battle for the school itself. That all sounds well and good and like fun, and it can be. The main problem is that The School for Good and Evil takes too long to get anywhere. It becomes too predictable to shock readers and the final conflict... well, veered on deus ex machina. That's never a good way to resolve a story readers have spent so much time investing in.
This is a looooong book for almost any genre (I'm looking at you, Epic Fantasy), but for a very young YA/verging on MG fairytale, 496 pages is just much too much. The pacing lags, events feel drawn out or stretched beyond feasibility, and the plot takes too much time to really form. There's a lack of tension and suspense before key events because the author takes too long to develop any sort of meaningful conflict. Outside of plotting and pacing, Chainani is an obviously talented, very visual, writer. Scenes pop and creatures both big and small, humor or non, all burst from the page. The School for Good and Evil can project an image, but fails to deliver real substance to go with how pretty/evil everything is on the surface.
The main characters are adaptable, and pretty well-rounded. There's more to both Sophie and Agatha than what meets the eye, and the author's switcheroo can be pretty clever. However, like most things in this novel, the realizations that come to both girls about their roles in future fairy tales takes far too long to foment into something meaningful. I could have done without the romances that pop up and complicate the girls' relationship and the plot, but Prince Charmings (and Not So Charmings) are to be expected in a novel so concerned with fairytales. The characters are another strong aspect of the novel, and I'm curious to see what will happen after the final events of book one.
The School for Good and Evil isn't a bad book by any means. It's just not as good as you, or I, or that book trailer want it to be. Those looking for a saccharine-ly sweet Disney tale should look elsewhere, and readers in search of a vibrant setting with complex and contradictory characters will find The School for Good and Evil a good fit, if not a particularly memorable one. There's some room for improvement, and editing, but Soman Chainani has a satisfactory beginning to his new series....more
I really, really wanted to love this novel. Middle grade fantasy can be really inventive and fun, but after several days and 300 pages of struggle, I had to call it. A fantasy with a lighter tone, with The Flame in the Mist Grindstaff weaves themes of courage and endurance, but it never really resonated with me. Younger readers will probably find more to love with Jemma's story, but I needed more subtlety and originality in order to click with this book.
I didn't read the last 150 pages, but I did skim it to see if I was missing a turn for the better. Grindstaff does take some risks and uses some darker elements as the story wraps up, but for me it was just too little to late. So much of the story at the heart of the novel is wrapped up in fantasy genre tropes. There's: a prophecy hundreds of years in the making, a "Chosen One" who doesn't know they are special, and the antagonists are one-dimensional for the majority of the novel.
Jemma isn't a bad protagonist - her humor and charm are obvious - but she is somewhat flat in the beginning. And also really really lucky. Several times she is in just the right spot to hear very detailed plans of the evildoers that directly pertain to her. It's very... convenient that a family which has kept a secret for 12 years would start discussing their nefarious aims in an area Jemma could very easily be. The plot hinges on some very ridiculous turns and reveals, all of which I found to be too obvious or just predictable.
There are a ton of four and five-star reviews out for this already, so my apathy is uncommon. It seems to be a "it's not you, it's me" situation. I wanted to like this, but there just wasn't anything that grabbed me. The writing is decent, if simple, but the target audience generally won't mind. The Flame in the Mist would be an excellent introduction to the fantasy genre, bur for readers already accustomed to it, it will make less of an impression....more