Monday, May 5, 2014

A World Without Princes (The School for Good and Evil #2) by Soman Chainani

A World Without Princes (The School for Good and Evil #2) by Soman Chainani
Rating: 3.5 stars
Source: Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review (thanks!)
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "In the epic sequel to the New York Times bestselling novel, The School for Good and Evil, Sophie and Agatha are home, living out their Ever After. But life isn’t quite the fairy tale they expected. 

When Agatha secretly wishes she’d chosen a different happy ending, she reopens the gates to the School for Good and Evil. But the world she and Sophie once knew has changed.

Witches and princesses, warlocks and princes are no longer enemies. New bonds are forming; old bonds are being shattered. But underneath this uneasy arrangement, a war is brewing and a dangerous enemy rises. As Agatha and Sophie battle to restore peace, an unexpected threat could destroy everything, and everyone, they love—and this time, it comes from within."

Review: This is one of those books that I think kids will like much more than adults.  This is not really a problem since kids are the target audience, but I still thought I should mention it.  Sophie and Agatha are back, and, and, just like last time, their story was engaging and exciting... after about two hundred pages.  I blew through the last half of the book in one sitting, captivated by the story and attached to the characters and their fates.  But it took me a while to get there.

The first half of the book felt really long.  For the first hundred-and-a-half pages or so Agatha and Sophie seem to be the same people that they were at the beginning of the last book.  I don't think that the starting point between them was where it should have been, considering the massive events of the last book that they just lived through, and I wished for something stronger between them from the onset.

Now that I'm finished with the book, I can admit that Agatha and Sophie leave me feeling frustrated.  I like the idea of characters fighting for friendship, but I didn't think that Agatha and Sophie's friendship was really worth fighting for.  In both this book and the last, their relationship is one of distrust, suspicion, and constant negativity.  They both grow and shine most when apart from each other.  Friends are supposed to lift, support, inspire, forgive, and laugh together.  I can't think of a single moment when Agatha and Sophie laughed together.  Sophie insists that Agatha keeps her Good, when I felt like she was her best around Tedros, not Agatha.  Agatha insists that Sophie isn't a witch, all while fearfully and constantly monitoring her for Evil symptoms.  It's a toxic friendship, and I liked them much better apart than together.  I don't want them to be archenemies, but I think both their lives would be better if their contact was limited to annual Christmas cards and nothing more.

Kids, I don't think, will be as bothered by their friendship as adults.  They will want them to prevail, and will cheer for their triumphs in this quirky fantasy world.  I can definitely see kids becoming enthralled with this story, and, as an adult, I would use this story to spur conversations and teaching moments on what healthy and unhealthy relationships are, and how to recognize them. 

But enough about Sophie and Agatha.  There is still plenty to love outside the two main characters.  Looking over the entire cast, I connected much more with Tedros and many of the other secondary characters than I did with Agatha or Sophie anyway.  Dot is an especially wonderful character, and I loved every scene in which she appeared.  I liked watching these characters struggle through a world that functions in shades of grey, despite being told that the world is black and white.  The castle was its own well-developed character, and I loved that fine bit of world-building.  The plot is carefully designed and tightly written, once it gets going.  The reader is constantly wondering who to root for, as there is no clear-cut "good guy," and that struggle alone is worth reading the novel for.  

Chainani is a skillful author and I enjoyed this novel, but I hope the final installment is quicker to get going and infused with more humor.  (His jokes are quite funny, and I wish they occurred more frequently.)  I also hope, without any expectation of this actually happening, that Sophie and Agatha leave their rocky friendship, respectfully and indefinitely.  Sometimes growing up means moving on, and I believe that is the case for them.  

Bottom line: Kids will enjoy the fantasy elements and engaging story, but adults will wish for the sparknotes version.

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