Once every four years the School Master comes a calling to the village of Gavaldon and two children disappear, never to be seen again. While all the other children are terrified of being taken, little Sophie cannot wait to be stolen away with all the other princesses to the School for Good to take lessons in Princess Etiquette, Beautification and Animal Communication and, of course, to meet her dashing prince. As far as Agatha’s concerned, it’s all hogwash. A School for Good and Evil that turns children into heroes, villains and witches? Fairy tale nonsense, as far as she’s concerned. But when the School Master snatches her best friend, Agatha has no choice but to believe when she too is taken along for the ride. And when Sophie with her flowing, golden locks and love of pink is given a place in the School for Evil and Agatha who lives in a graveyard and has a penchant for shapeless black frocks is put in the School for Good, things start getting complicated.
There were two things that drew me to this book: an eye-catching cover and the promise of something original. I have to say, I was not disappointed. It is said that there is no such thing as an original story these days and rehashing fairy tales is now more popular than ever, but I have never before read a book that managed to capture the magic of so many different tales before whilst seamlessly incorporating something new for readers to love. It’s pretty obvious from page one that Sophie is more than a little deluded with her own good nature and that Agatha has more to give than it initially appears, but the way these characters grow into their fairy tale was very, very well handled by Chainani. I think every girl who has ever felt less than perfect will be able to identify with Agatha as she finds her feet in the School for Good and shows the other students and, indeed, the reader, not only that what’s in your heart counts more than the features of your face, but that the only person stopping you from being who you want to be is you.
The plot is fast-paced but not confusing, with enough meat on the bones to stay fresh and enough twists and turns to keep you surprised but without making your head spin. I admit, I was very naughty and snuck a quick peek at the penultimate scenes. To my detriment I’m one of those people who, when I’m really into a book, simply cannot focus on something else until I know how it ends. With quite a big project at work to get on with, I caved and shot to the end. But even knowing the direction these girls were heading in, the depth of the characters (which, I will hold my hands up and say I was not expecting and was very pleasantly surprised by), the richness of the plot and the world still kept me enthralled when I got back to it. It may be targeted at a younger audience, but this is one book I would recommend to anyone looking for a thoroughly engaging read that will steal you away to a land of fairies, magic, heroes and villains, a place where you really should learn to look past the surface.
The first thing I did after I finished The School for Good and Evil was look up the release date of book two, and I for one will be counting down the days.