Warning: this review contains a spoiler. The spoilers are used to help me explain the context of my point. If you’re currently reading or want to read this series and you don’t like spoilers, you might want to stop reading right after this sentence ends.
On July 20th, I finished reading The School for Good and Evil series by Soman Chainani. As soon as I completed the final book, One True King, I suddenly wanted to share my thoughts on the series. I’m intending to make this a light novel review. I will neither relate my review with my undergraduate thesis—since I also discuss this series in my thesis—nor will I apply a specific literature/linguistic theory to analyze some parts in the series deeper.
The whole series tells the tale of Agatha and Sophie, best friends who are looking for their Ever After. Sophie is a girl who has a Rapunzel-like appearance, a narcissist, and is obsessed with having an ideal Ever After as a princess. In contrast, Agatha is Sophie’s complete opposite: a girl with black bob hair and an unappealing black dress who is bitter, insecure, and doesn’t believe in fairy tales. The first trilogy (The School for Good and Evil (2013), The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes (2014), The School for Good and Evil: The Last Ever After (2015)) tells Sophie and Agatha’s adventure in the School for Good and Evil, where the princess-like Sophie goes to the School for Evil, and the witch-like Agatha goes to the School for Good.
The second trilogy (The School for Good and Evil: Quest for Glory (2017), The School for Good and Evil: A Crystal of Time (2019), The School for Good and Evil: One True King (2020)) tells the story of Agatha and Tedros in Camelot six months after Sophie becomes the Dean of the School for Evil in The Last Ever After. As fourth-year students, Agatha and Tedros must fulfill their quests as the ruler of Camelot. However, their final quest is not as easy as the challenges they had in the School for Good. Tedros must prove he is the royal heir of Arthur Pendragon–that he has the courage, as well as the Woods’ respect, to pull Excalibur from the stone and rule Camelot.
The first time I read the description of the School and how the student gets there, my imagination flies to Hogwarts. You can’t have a normal way to go to the School. There should be a mysterious creature who brings children to the School and dropped them to the right side: Good or Bad. The illustration of the School also reminds me of the Wizarding School. The only difference is in the housing system— there is no Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw. Just plain Good and Bad.
I personally like the fairy tale universe Chainani made in this series. It reminds me of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There, you can meet some heroes and heroines from children’s stories like Cinderella, Briar Rose, and Robin Hood. In addition to that, Chainani enables the aging phase of each character and makes the characters’ personalities humane and relatable. For example, you will encounter Cinderella and other heroes and heroines as pessimistic old people who cannot really help themselves in The Last Ever After. The list goes on.
Another feature I like from the series is that Chainani experiments with the endings and the consequences that follow. Usually, fairy tales are predictable: it begins with a good-natured protagonist being used and manipulated by their family/people they know for quite a long time until a prince charming comes to save the protagonist. The story ends with a Happily Ever After. Although the ending of the whole story in The School for Good and Evil is kind of predictable (as it follows a fairy tale format), the endings of each book and their consequences are fun little surprises for me. Chainani shows the reader the alternative version of the fairy tales we know in all his books. Usually, fairy tales end when the prince charming kisses the protagonist or when they decide to live together. At the end of the first book, it turns out that it’s Agatha who kisses Sophie. This results in Agatha and Sophie being sent to Gavaldon and the School changing into the School for Girls and Boys. Agatha tries to fix her fairy tale by kissing Tedros, as in the conventional ending of fairy tales. However, Sophie prevents their Ever After, which later causes a Great War.
The character development of each character is amazing. Sophie turns from a narcissist who is afraid of abandonment and lack of love into a person who accepts people for who they are; Agatha turns from a stubborn, bossy, insecure girl into a more understanding and confident queen; Tedros changes from a selfish, bad-tempered prince to a wise king, as well as other characters. Besides, I learn about friendship, love, and sacrifice. Despite all odds, Agatha and Sophie remain friends. The same thing happens with Hester, Anadil, and Dot. Even though Dot is too soft and loving as a Never, Hester and Anadil accept her as their friend.
However, I see logical flaws in the storyline, particularly in the second trilogy. The first flaw I notice is Excalibur’s position. In the first trilogy, Tedros is described to be Arthur Pendragon’s true heir, bringing Excalibur to the School. Since Tedros enters the School for Good and Evil in the same year as Sophie and Agatha, he must be 12 years old. At that time, King Arthur had died, and the kingdom is run by the council until Tedros is ready to fill the leadership position. In book 4, in which Tedros turns 15, there is not much detail of how Excalibur goes back to the stone that holds it. There is only a cutscene of Tedros, Agatha, and Merlin trying to solve the puzzle of why Excalibur won’t budge from the stone despite Tedros being Arthur’s royal heir and supposedly the one who can claim the throne. Magic might take part in putting Excalibur to its original place, but I think it makes more sense when Tedros uses a regular sword that is meant to be used in his first three years of School before he deals with for his final year’s grand quest.
The second flaw that bothers me is Chaddick’s plot twist in the second trilogy. Chainani wrote Chaddick as Tedros’ half-brother from King Arthur and his stewardess’ one-night stand activity the night before Arthur’s royal wedding, which makes him born before Tedros. This is something ridiculous for me, because if Chaddick was Tedros’ half brother and he was the rightful one—if he did not get killed by Japeth in Avalon—Tedros shouldn’t be able to bring Excalibur to School since the sword only recognizes Chaddick as Arthur’s first son (given it doesn’t consider whether Chaddick is a bastard or Tedros is a royal heir).
Sophie and Agatha’s plot twist also caught my attention. Sophie and Agatha befriend each other while fighting over a boy at the same time, only to later find out that they are sisters, and Vanessa is their mother, not just Sophie’s. But then, you might forget this fact as soon as you read the new story that occurs 6 months after the Great War. The difference between this and the previous plot twist is I don’t really mind Sophie and Agatha’s since the only thing that changes is their status from best friends to best friends and sisters.
The pacing and nuances of this story are generally okay for me, although I felt lost when I read A World Without Princes. The sequel was meant to be about the consequence of Agatha’s decision to kiss Sophie instead of Tedros, but the nuances were not as engaging as the first book. It focuses more on Sophie’s rage because she feels left behind due to Tedros and Agatha’s desire to have a conventional Ever After. The Last Ever After gets better, but the pace is a bit too slow, especially in the scene when Tedros and Agatha agree to persuade Sophie to destroy her ring while they’re hiding in Avalon, considering everything becomes faster after the characters get out of Avalon and face the Great War. Chainani could have delivered the scene efficiently without throwing necessary details away. I also feel as if Chainani was a bit rushed in finishing the story of One True King. He did a pretty well job in maintaining the suspension in Quest for Glory and A Crystal of Time, but then because he wants the last book to end it all, the side characters he doesn’t use are killed off in an easier way than the ones in book 4 and 5. I will borrow this phrase to describe One True King: “agak kentang.” The ending in One True King is a little bit disappointing for me, although I’m glad that it turns out just like I expected. I’m disappointed because the legendary heroes and villains and some of the teachers in the School for Good and Evil who help Tedros become the King of Camelot are barely alive, leaving only Merlin, as well as the remaining senior teachers, who live long enough to see Tedros and Agatha’s marriage. The rest of the attendees are Tedros and Agatha’s remaining classmates and juniors who stay in the School and the ones who accompany their final quest.
All in all, I would say I enjoyed reading the sequel so much, regardless of the pros and cons. I love how Chainani decided to play with various fairy tales and created a place where these heroes from different fairy tales know each other. If I were to give it a rating, I would give it 4 stars.