Ever wonder where the heroes and villains from our favorite fairytales come from? Well, they came from a school that taught them everything in order to become those dashing princes, beautiful princesses in distress, children-eating witches and stepmothers from hell. This school was known as the School for Good and Evil and little miss perfectionist Sophie can’t wait to attend and become just like all those princesses in the fairytales and meet her destined prince, but not all is what it seems. In order to attend this school, potential children are actually kidnapped from villages and sorted based on their personalities into either the School for Good or School for Evil and Sophie isn’t the only one that gets kidnapped to attend. Her brooding “witch” friend Agatha is also whisked away to this land to find a happily ever after life.
The first in Soman Chainani’s The School for Good and Evil series tells a tale of what exactly makes someone good or evil. The plot centers around a pair of heroines that at first introduction would have Sophie become a princess and Agatha a witch, but in this tale, they get switched at the school. Both girls have to learn not only to adapt, but also to accept the fact that they might actually belong in the school of their initial placement. Naturally one of the characters will refuse to accept the fact her path is set on becoming a wicked crone, but as readers go on with the story, it becomes clear that she just may actually be evil to the core.
However, not everything is black and white at this school. Chainani’s book is a de-constructed fairytale rather than a typical “and they lived happily ever after” story by showing just how wrong the school’s good and evil system is through Sophie and Agatha’s journey at the school. For a book targeting middle-grade children, the story is actually extremely dark and it explores themes most adults may either praise or shun depending on a variety of reasons. But of course, the old and original fairytales of lore (i.e the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Anderson versions) were never exactly clean cut and rosy either. And like the old tales, The School for Good and Evil does its fair share of teaching about morality, but this book also questions the morality of those who are deemed good. In fact, children of the good school who fail are destined to a fate that one of the heroines considers to be worse than death.
The ending of the book may even surprise many readers and spoiler alert, fans of the Legend of Korra’s series’ ending may enjoy it. What exactly happens at the end is open to interpretation and despite the book being the first of a trilogy, it can be read as a stand alone. If you continue on with the series, you’ll find out whether true love or true friendship can lead to a happily ever after for the heroines. Overall, Chainani’s first novel is a witty, magical, and maybe even a little bit controversial yet extremely bold fantastical read that may leave readers never looking at classical fairytales the way they were again.
Soman Chainani is an acclaimed screen-writer and graduate of the MFA Film program at Columbia University. The School for Good and Evil is his first novel and the first in a trilogy. For more information, visit Soman Chainani’s website or the The School for Good and Evil series website.