Did Not Finish, Fairy Tale

Review: A World Without Princes

Cover of "A World Without Princes," featuring a blond girl and a black-haired girl on either side of a blond boy whose face is in profile. Below them is a crest with two swans, one black and one white, on either side and the title of the book on a scroll across the crest.
Image from The School for Good and Evil

Title: A World Without Princes

Series: The School for Good and Evil #2

Author: Soman Chainani

Genre: Fairy Tale

Trigger Warnings: Kidnapping, attempted violence

Spoiler Warning: This book is a sequel, so if you haven’t read The School for Good and Evil, this review will probably have spoilers.

Back Cover:

In the New York Times bestselling sequel to Soman Chainani’s debut, The School for Good and Evil, Sophie and Agatha are back in Gavaldon, living out their Happily Ever After, but life isn’t quite the fairy tale they expected.

Witches and princesses reside at the School for Girls, where they’ve been inspired to live a life without princes, while Tedros and the boys are camping in Evil’s old towers. A war is brewing between the schools, but can Agatha and Sophie restore the peace? Can Sophie stay good with Tedros on the hunt? And whose heart does Agatha’s belong to—her best friend or her prince?

Read to: Page 76

Review:

Immediately after finishing The School for Good and Evil, I reserved this book at the library. The School for Good and Evil was fantastic, and I wanted to read more and find out how the story turned out.

I’m not really sure how to put into words how I feel about this book. In many ways, it was a letdown. (Obviously, since I didn’t finish it.) But it could have been great and I’m really disappointed in some of the choices made for this book.

Warning: long review ahead – I have a lot of Feelings about this one. Scroll to the bottom for the tl;dr version.

Agatha and Sophie bothered me a tiny bit – not in the sense that I didn’t like them, because I still loved them, but in the sense that they weren’t the same people they were at the end of book one and it felt like a little of the character development from the first book had been undone (although I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why). Overall, it was a minor problem that I probably could look past, especially if they developed in this book as much as they did in the first one.

I loved the world. I loved it in the first book and I loved it here. There were some changes to the school (which I didn’t get fully introduced to before I stopped reading), but I think I would have enjoyed those, too. The entire concept of the world is amazing and I love it.

My main problem is the entire concept of this book – at the end of book one, Agatha chose Sophie over everything else, and now she’s regretting her choice and wishing she had chosen Prince Tedros instead. I hated that. It didn’t fit with Agatha’s character and it was a horrible, forced straight romance angle when if there had to be a romance, a romance between Agatha and Sophie would fit so much better.

And it’s not just because I like gay romances better than straight ones (although I will admit I do). There really is a lot more potential for a romance between Agatha and Sophie than between Agatha and Tedros. Agatha obviously cares for Sophie a lot (protecting/helping Sophie was 99% of her motivation in the first book), and Sophie seems to also care, if not as deeply.  Book one ends with a very emotional, touching moment where Agatha chooses Sophie above everyone else. Even at the beginning of this book, they still care a lot about each other and stick together through everything.

On the other hand, Agatha barely interacted with Tedros at all in the previous book (except for trying to help Sophie catch is interest). She recognized him as handsome, like everyone, but instantly flagged him as unattainable and, to the best of my memory, never even considered liking him romantically. He’s hardly even a major character – he barely got any page time in book one, as the focus was more on Agatha and Sophie. Any feelings Agatha has for him can only be motivated by his status (son of King Arthur) or his dashing good looks, which is incredibly shallow and not something I think Agatha would do.

As my fiance pointed out, the concept of a character making an important choice and then regretting it later on is an interesting one, and I will admit that. It’s unique and interesting. But there’s no reason for Agatha to regret her choice except for Soman trying to force a romance where one won’t work. All through the first book, Agatha chose Sophie. She always chose Sophie over everything, even her own Happily Ever After. A romance growing out of their deep friendship would make perfect sense. Even a plot without a romance at all would be fine. But whatever attraction exists between Agatha and Tedros is based on looks or status, which is shallow and sad. (And honestly I love Agatha and want better than that for her.)

Okay, I’m going to stop now because this review is getting long. But I have a lot of feelings about this book. It could have been great with an Agatha+Sophie romance (or even no romance at all). But what’s actually going on in A World Without Princes … it’s disappointing and out of character.

And who knows, maybe it would have gotten better if I’d continued the book. But it seemed like the entire premise would be Agatha trying to redo her choice between Sophie and Tedros, and I honestly didn’t want to read about that, no matter how much I loved the characters in book one.

tl;dr

Any feelings Agatha had for Tedros were based on his looks and/or his status and (in my opinion) forced by the author. In book one, Agatha always chose Sophie over everything else, and there’s no reason for her to stop that now. If the concept was different and we returned to the School for Good and Evil for different reasons, with Agatha staying in character and continuing to choose Sophie – or at least getting to know Tedros enough that having to choose made sense – I would have loved this book. (And I would have loved it even more if Agatha and Sophie fell in love.) But as it is, I was disappointed and upset that this book wasn’t the sequel I wanted.

Definitely read The School for Good and Evil, it’s totally worth it. And give this one a shot. I admit I can be really picky about certain things, and maybe if you keep going it gets better. It wasn’t necessarily a bad book – it just wasn’t the one that I wanted. Maybe you’ll like it more than I did.

The School for Good and Evil series:

  1. The School for Good and Evil
  2. A World Without Princes
  3. The Last Ever After
  4. Quests for Glory
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Fairy Tale

Review: The School for Good and Evil

Cover of "The School for Good and Evil," featuring the title on a banner in front of a crest with a black swan on one side and a white swan on the other, above it are two girls, one with short dark hair and one with long blond hair, standing back-to-back
Image from The School for Good and Evil

Title: The School for Good and Evil

Series: The School for Good and Evil #1

Author: Soman Chainani

Genre: Fairy Tale

Trigger Warnings: Violence, blood, death, fatphobia

Back Cover:

At the School for Good and Evil, failing your fairy tale is not an option.

With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good, while Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.

The two girls soon find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good. But what if the mistake is the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are?

The School for Good and Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one.

Review:

I picked this up because the cover was pretty cool and the concept – a school that trained fairy tale heroes and villains – was pretty darn awesome.

To start with, this book was a lot thicker than I expected. I was expecting a thin little paperback, not a nearly-500-page epic. And I definitely wasn’t expecting all of the twists, turns, betrayals, character growth, and, well, everything.

The book starts by immediately throwing you into a world where every year, the mysterious School Master kidnaps two village kids and every kid is afraid of being taken except Sophie, who is super excited to be taken from the boring village and sent to the School for Good, where she can focus on her beauty and win a handsome prince.

Except it’s pretty obvious from the beginning that Sophie isn’t as good as she thinks she is. Her “good works” are donating face wash to the orphanage, hanging mirrors in public restrooms, and spending time with Agatha, the frumpy, ugly, unfriendly girl who lives in the house in the graveyard (who she doesn’t particularly like, mind you, but sees as a good charity case).

The story is told in alternating perspectives between Sophie and Agatha, so you get to see what Agatha is thinking, too. Agatha actually cares about Sophie – she doesn’t necessarily consider them friends (she’s aware she’s just a charity case), but she cares anyway. A lot of her motivation during the first part of the book is to rescue Sophie from the School of Evil and get her home.

I really want to say more about these girls, but it’s hard because they change and grow so much throughout the book. Part of it is learning why they got put in the schools they did, part of it is leveraging their own unique strengths. (Sophie’s skills and interest in fashion and beauty are never played as a bad thing and are actually shown as a strength.) I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but they change a lot and it’s amazing.

It’s hard to say much about the plot. It starts off with Agatha wanting to keep Sophie from getting kidnapped, but that goes out the window pretty quick and then it’s Sophie wanting to get to the School for Good and Agatha wanting to get them both out of there and back to their village. And that’s the gist of it – but there’s so much more. Class rankings. Surviving things. Extra special magic powers. And I can’t say too much because spoilers.

The school itself is absolutely amazing. You get both Sophie and Agatha’s perspectives, so you get to see both schools, and it’s fantastic. They’re exactly what you would expect from schools for fairy-tale Good and fairy-tale Evil, but it’s all the little details (like the existence of beauty spas in the Good school and a classroom made of ice with a torture chamber beneath it in the Evil school) that makes it absolutely amazing.

I almost said the school was the best part of the book for me, but it’s hard to really say that. All of it was fantastic. Each element blended with the rest of them to create a fascinating world, an enthralling plot, and masterfully-written characters that made me devour the book in one day. (Yes, I read all 500 pages in one day. It was that good.)

There were only two downsides to this book. One was fatphobia, which was mild and mostly stemming from Sophie’s vain perspective. The other was the ending – not that it was bad, but it had the opportunity to be gay and wasn’t.

I don’t have enough positive adjectives to say about this book. I was expecting a fairy tale and I got so much more. So much more. I didn’t know this was a series when I picked this up, but I’m so glad it is because I want more. I want more of these characters and I want more of this world.

I’m trying not to ramble, so just … read the book.

(And if you’re a fan, the School for Good and Evil website is really awesome.)

The School for Good and Evil series:

  1. The School for Good and Evil
  2. A World Without Princes
  3. The Last Ever After
  4. Quests for Glory
Fairy Tale

Review: Princess Academy

Princess Academy book cover
Image from The Book Smugglers

Title:  Princess Academy

Author:  Shannon Hale

Genre:  Fairy Tale

Back Cover:

High on the slopes of rocky Mount Eskel, Miri’s village pounds a living from the mountain’s stone.  But then word comes that the next princess will be chosen from her village.  All eligible girls are forced to attend a makeshift academy to prepare for royal life.  There, Miri confronts not only a cruel teacher and bitter competition among the girls, but her own conflicting desires to be chosen.  But when danger comes to the academy, it is up to Miri to save her classmates and the future of their village.

Review:

Princess Academy is one of those books that I had planned on reading, but never really got around to it.  But after I finished Princess Ben, I was looking for something else with a fairy-tale feel, and I finally decided to pick this one up.

I really enjoyed Miri.  Even though she wasn’t physically strong, she was strong mentally – a quick learner and quick to figure out how things work, even when there’s no one to teach her.  And while she wasn’t exactly brave or bold, I liked her in a sweet-little-sister kind of way.

Olana, the instructor, was such a jerk at the beginning.  She was ridiculously unfair and way, way too hard on the girls.  I totally hated her.  And then …no spoilers, but I didn’t hate her quite so much anymore.

There’s so many other characters I could mention – Britta, Miri’s new friend, Katar, Miri’s main rival among the girls, little Gerti who is occasionally important ….  Every girl at the academy had an important part to play somewhere, and each had her own distinct personality, which just added to the awesomeness of the story.  I feel like if I write a paragraph about any of the other girls, I’d be shorting the ones I didn’t mention.

The whole watching-girls-learn-about-being-royalty thing had the potential to be really boring, but between butting heads with Olana and competing among themselves, it wasn’t.  And even though I can’t say I didn’t see what was coming as far as the “danger to the academy” part and Miri’s romantic interests, I still enjoyed the story.  And who the prince chose was something I did not guess.

This book was exactly what I was looking for – lighthearted and fun, not really a fairy tale or involving real princesses but with a very fairy-tale feel.  And even though Princess Academy wrapped up in such a way that I’m not sure what the sequel, Palace of Stone, will be about, I might just read it anyway.  Because I definitely wouldn’t object to spending another book with these characters.

The Princess Academy series:

  1. Princess Academy
  2. Palace of Stone
  3. The Forgotten Sisters
Fairy Tale

Review: Princess Ben

Princess Ben book cover
Image from Eloise Reads

Title:  Princess Ben

Author:  Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Genre:  Fairy Tale

Back Cover:

When her parents are assassinated, Princess Benevolence ends up under the thumb of the conniving Queen Sophia.  As the late king’s niece, Ben is now the official heir to the throne, but learning princessly manners is the last thing she wants to do.  Starved and miserable, locked in the castle’s highest tower, Ben stumbles upon an enchanted room.  So begins her secret education in the magical arts – mastering an obstinate flying broomstick, furtively emptying the castle pantries, setting her hair on fire….  But Ben’s private adventures are soon overwhelmed by a mortal threat by the neighboring kingdom.  Will a pudgy, un-princess-like princess be able to save her kingdom?

Review:

I read Princess Ben multiple times when I was thirteen-ish.  I forget what originally made me pick it up, but I remember loving the originality of the adventure.  When I saw it on the library shelf the other day, I decided to pick it up and see if it was as great as I remembered.

I loved Ben.  She’s not a typical princess – fat, obsessed with food, petulant and childish and very, very stubborn.  But somehow, I managed to overlook her shortcomings at the beginning of the story.  I thought I liked her in the beginning, but she was absolutely awesome by the end.

Queen Sophia was an antagonist who wasn’t all bad.  She and Ben butted heads a lot, but half of that was because they were both strong-willed women, and their agendas didn’t agree.  Sophia was a good queen, even if she didn’t do very well handling a teenage girl.

Between Ben’s shortcomings as a princess, her education in magic, the problems with Drachensbett (the neighboring country), the threat of marriage, and Ben not getting along with Queen Sophia, the whole plot is delightfully tangled.  The magic gets Ben into all sorts of problems, the princes-trying-to-win-the-princess’s-hand plot is nothing like you’d expect, and overall, completely amazing.  (I apologize if I’m being vague here, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers.)

Even though this book isn’t exactly short, it’s hard to do a long review of it – at least not without spoilers.  It’s separated into four distinct parts, each of which has what seems like its own separate plot, and I’m trying my best not to spoil anything.  Because Princess Ben is too good to ruin for you.

Suffice it to say that this is one childhood favorite I still love.