I saw my younger sister reading The School for Good and Evil and recognized it as a book I had read on a sleepover back in middle school. I remembered it leaving me confused and vaguely annoyed. Out of morbid curiosity, I re-read it, and realized why …
The vision is extremely muddled. The author can’t seem to decide if he’s writing a morality tale about not judging by appearances, a poorly executed satire of fairy tales, or fantasy Mean Girls.
The author seems to be trying to write every possible story that could have bloomed from his premise. And he doesn’t take them one at a time, either. One moment Sophie is acting like a Saturday morning cartoon villain, the next we are told Good and Evil don’t matter and we should look “in between” (whatever that means; it's never explained), and then draaamaa and booysss and boring love triangles take over so we can be reminded how vapid both Good and Evil are in this cardboard world. Eesh.
Adding to the confusion are the “wacky comedy" sequences so poorly written and timed that they read like acid trips, and the way the characters change personality and motivation completely at random.
As a general rule, I dislike stories like Shrek or Into the Woods that deconstruct heroic/fairy tale tropes, but this book doesn't even succeed at that. Sometimes it’s trying to be a satire and sometimes it seems to be accepting and acclaiming those tropes … but only the superficial parts of those tropes, unfortunately (because ooooh booyss). Most notably, with the main love interest, Prince Tedros, it appears at first like we are in for the usual “honorable princes are actually swaggering idiots,” but instead we are treated to a prince who is sometimes a swaggering idiot and sometimes an honorable prince, and not because he is a complex character, more because the author changed his personality based on whatever worked best for the shoestring plot, or sometimes just because he felt like it.
There’s a sign this book had potential, though … if it hadn’t, I’d probably just thought, “Well, that sucked,” and moved on. Instead, I thought, “Well, that sucked,” and spent the rest of the night imagining myself burning down the school with a flamethrower and escaping into the forest with a student who’d been turned into a rabbit.
So, there you go.