ARC Review: A World Without Princes by Soman Chainani

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Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Adventure, Fantasy
Series Name: The School for Good and Evil
Previous Review: The School for Good and Evil #1
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Publishing House: HarperCollins
Number of pages: 400
Source: ARC from Edelweiss
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Pre-order on AMAZON | THE BOOK DEPOSITORY

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

Disclaimer: There may be minor spoilers of book 1 in this review. Consider yourselves warned if you haven’t read the first book.

And Sophie and Agatha lived happily ever after, for girls don’t need princes for love to call.

No, they don’t princes in their fairy tales at all.

When I first read The School for Good and Evil sometime last year, I appreciated so much how it portrayed very dark themes in a seemingly light, humorous, and fluffy tone. I enjoyed how it mocked the many tropes and worn-out clichés that are present in many of the stories we read in our childhood ( like princesses having to learn how to communicate with animals, princes having classes on heroism, the “evil ones” needing some uglification, etc. etc). And most of all, I loved how on the surface, it IS about fairy tales and it IS about fairy tale characters, but underneath it all are deep, dark and real issues that we tackle even in our day-to-day lives.

In short, The School for Good and Evil was intense. Yeah, it seemed fluffy and light-hearted, but seriously? Don’t let that silly and vibrant cover fool you. I was a raging, emotional wreck when I finished it. It was so intense that I doubted the succeeding books would be able to topple it.

Obviously, I was being naive. I was not only a raging, emotional wreck – I was a raging and ugly emotional wreck. I didn’t think it would get any more darker and complex after the first book, but I was proven wrong, and if I had it my way, I’d just write “intense” over and over in this review so you guys can get the idea (if you haven’t already).

First, a recap. When we think of fairy tales, we oftentimes expect a world  of happily-ever-afters, of rainbows and butterflies and fairies, of witches and wizards and ogres getting their asses whooped by a Prince Charming. Apparently, that is also true in the world Chainani created, but before these characters live out their stories, they go to a special school and learn how to act like their characters first. Princess and princes versus ogres, witches, and hunchbacks. Good versus Evil. Beautification versus Uglification. Every four years, this school kidnaps two girls from our realm to become characters in their own fairy tales, and that’s how two girls, Sophie and Agatha, found themselves whisked away to this mysterious place. This has always been Sophie’s dream, so she was ecstatic, but Agatha wanted nothing more than to go back to their normal lives. Unfortunately, the blonde and lively Sophie found herself placed in the Evil school, and the pessimistic brunette, Agatha, in Good’s. Thinking it was a bad misunderstanding and a mistake, the former was determined to make things “right”. And that’s where things get really… chaotic.

In A World Without Princes, Agatha and Sophie continue their normal lives outside the magical realm, a happily-ever-after they thought they wanted, but alas, doubts and regrets abound. Having experienced acceptance aside from her best friend, Agatha starts to question if this life with Sophie really was the ending she wanted, if she really made the right choice in choosing her best friend. Sophie, on the other hand, couldn’t be any happier. She had thought she needed other people to feel special, but she realized she only needed to be the best for that one person who mattered the most to her: Agatha. And that’s why when they find themselves back in the magical realm because of Agatha’s yearning to be with Tedros, Sophie becomes determined to not let anyone else get her best friend. To her, they only needed each other.

Sophie

In the first book, I loathed Sophie. She was hateful, selfish, and conceited. She only thought of herself and would do dangerous things at the expense of other people. But despite this apparent greed and selfishness, underneath was a complex individual who simply wanted to be loved and admired. Not exactly a bad thing to wish for – all of us have felt this at least once or twice in our lives. Sophie’s mistake was her narrow-minded thinking that there was only one way of achieving what she wanted. That’s why despite her being an infuriating little nitwit, I thought she was the most complex character in the first book. Her development from bad to worse and then to her gradual awareness and realization may have been a wild ride, but it was one that shook me to the very core.

Here, we still see a bit of her selfish side. That can’t be helped, of course; Sophie is still Sophie, after all. She craves for attention, she wants people to adore her, but these are all secondary now as long as she has Agatha by her side. In the end, her only wish is the same – to not be alone. And it is because of this wish that things become haywire again, and it’s like the first book all over again where she does things for the name of love, but she does them misguidedly. But at the same time, while she did do and say things that were highly questionable, you’ll find yourself not having the heart to blame her for it. It’s like, you can really see and understand how desperate she truly was. She’s so scared of being alone that it pushes her to think and act irrationally. She doesn’t do them for the heck of it, but because for her it made sense and she thought they were the only ways of keeping what was important to her. That doesn’t mean I don’t think they were selfish at all – they were. They really, really were. They were done because she was scared for her own well-being. But if our desperation clouds our judgement, can we really say we think straight?

On the topic of villains…

That’s why I see her as more of an anti-heroine than an antagonist. She’s absolutely complex and three-dimensional, that I hate her and love her at the same time. She’s the kind of “villain” (not the quote, unquote) I prefer to see in literature – the kind who don’t see the world in a simple black and white, the type of people who have deeper reasons  for doing the things they do. She reminds me of many people in society today who aren’t inherently evil or malicious, but because of desperation, they resort to doing bad things. Examples are the kind who’d steal from a food stall to feed their children who haven’t eaten anything for 3 days straight; who’d rob a rich person to pay for their parents’ medical bills, and; who’d sell their bodies against their own wills just to send their children to school. I’m not saying these should be tolerated just because the person doing it has a sad backstory… in the end, it’s the action that matters, not the intention; however, the point I’m trying to make here is as a reader, we have more awareness than the characters in a book, and it is this “knowing” that there is a deeper reason in the actions they do that other characters don’t see/know that makes individuals like Sophie highly interesting to read.

How about Agatha?

I liked Agatha in the first book. She was a really cool person who was sarcastic and witty, who discreetly mocked the frilly things fairy tale princesses were known for. She may have been belittled for her allegedly sad appearance, but she was highly intelligent and she wasn’t afraid to show it. She questioned the school, she questioned the authorities, and she did everything she could to get her and Sophie back to the real world. That’s why I was a bit disappointed to see her kind of lifeless and dull here. While I was reading the book, I kept on wondering what the heck happened to the Agatha I loved in A School for Good and Evil? There were times she was so out of character that I was left wondering if her love for Tedros changed her personality altogether. I also didn’t like the flip-flopping she would sometimes do. Tedros or Sophie? Sophie or Tedros? It was kind of infuriating to see her become a little wishy-washy…in  addition to that some of her intelligence that was very apparent in the first book slowly ebbed away, so it was like adding insult to injury.

As for Tedros…

He was kinda a pathetic prince in the first book (even though I shipped him and Agatha so hard), but he kinda grew balls of steel here. There were times I got really frustrated with him, though. For such a supposedly high-profile prince, he was easily manipulated by other forces, and because of this I questioned his love for our brunette princess. If you really do love her, then why do you distrust her so much to the point of wanting to do bodily harm? His resolve in the middle of the book seemed so far-fetched to me that it was just undoubtedly ridiculous and silly. Still, he was given more exposure and substance here, and he’s cool overall. We get more of his backstory here regarding his and his parents’ past (King Arthur and Queen Guinevere!), so that was cool.

And so…

Nevertheless, the issues I had in this book were very minor in comparison to the intense feels it gave me. Despite Agatha’s, erm, character devolvement, and Tedros’ exaggerated resolve, Sophie’s complexity made this book awesome for me. She’s really the star of the series here, and all the frustration, anger, and sadness one undergoes with regards to her are all worth it. She’s outstanding in a sense her character opens a lot of discussion and discourse. Just be wary that this is darker than it seems. If you’re looking for a light read, this ain’t your book unfortunately. But please don’t let that stop you! This one is truly a great book and should not be missed.

Rating Report
Plot
Characters
Writing
Pacing
World-building
Overall: 4.4

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Faye

Faye

A 21 years old Filipina who loves books, games, languages, and most especially, food. Secretly wishes to be an astronaut so she can explore the stars. Has a love-hate relationship with Philippine politics. To get in her good graces, offer her Foie Gras, Or shrimp. Or a JRPG. A YA sci-fi book works, too. You can follow her on twitter here: @kawaiileena

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    • FayeFaye says

      Right? I never thought it was dark at first with covers like that (especially the first book… it was so cartoony I thought I’d get the same, but NOPE). It’s hard not to hate Sophie with her selfishness, and it took a great deal of courage for me to accept the realization she’s just being lonely. It made more sense to me that way. :))

    • FayeFaye says

      Haha, good call. Please read #1 first! I’m not kidding that there’s really more to it than what meets the eye. I believe I rated that one 4 stars.

  1. says

    like when fantasy/paranormal books have something extra in it and tackle more than just romance, world-building and action but rather make you connect by tackling the everyday problems. I knew next to nothing about this series other than the cover because well.. it never seemed like something I’d want to read. So happy that this is working so well for you:) Whoop! Character growth for Sophie! I love me some villains who I love to hate and hate to love :D Sucks that the witty character you came to know in Agatha faded a little in this book. Dude I’m so happy that you adored this and I’ll be sure to look out for other reviews for this series from now on ;)
    Siiri recently posted…Blogger Interview: Jasprit from The Reader’s DenMy Profile

    • FayeFaye says

      Yeah, same. I mean, it was entertaining at the same time, as other books are especially in this genre, with it being like Shrek in more ways than one, but it really did feel like it was something you could talk about in literature class and go beyond what were in the books.

      One of the best villains I’ve ever read was the one from Vicious (V. Schwab). I loved how he wasn’t just evil for the heck of it, and how complex he was.

  2. says

    Wow this Sophie character sounds awfully complicated, but that I can see how this would seem really appealing. I do like characters who seem to have many layers, that at times you think you understand them and then they bring out this whole other side to them. I like how your image of her as a nitwit has changed from this first book and that in many aspects she actually made this book for you. I don’t think I’ve come across this series before, or maybe I have but not really paid it much attention. But it certainly will be a book I will be adding to the tbr! Thank you for another lovely review Faye!
    Jasprit recently posted…Review: Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott.My Profile

    • FayeFaye says

      Yay, I’m glad to hear that, Jasprit! In addition, this book will be made into a movie by Universal Studios :P So better read it now before it becomes THE bandwagon. Haha.

    • FayeFaye says

      Right? Those kind of books are gems for me. It takes a really good author to be able to successfully do something like that.

  3. says

    YEAH! I’m so glad this one worked for you Faye! Sophie sounds like a fabulous character – the way she can just make you feel exactly what she’s feeling is definitely a sign of powerful writing! I’ll definitely keep this in mind for when I’m in the mood for a dark, intense read! Thanks for sharing Faye, and, as always, brilliant review! :D
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    • FayeFaye says

      Powerful writing FTW! I’m pretty thankful that my recent reads have been really good. The one I’m reading now is lame in comparison >.>

  4. says

    Really? But the cover is so beautiful and it makes me think of princess and happily ever afters! There goes my fantasy. Drat. On the other hand, it’s amazing isn’t it when our view of a character changes over the course of the book? I’m glad this book made you *feel,* Faye, although it does seem intense!
    Goldie recently posted…Review: I Have a Bad Feeling About ThisMy Profile

    • FayeFaye says

      Oh, make no mistake. It IS intense. I’d even go as far as to say it’s one of the most emotionally gripping books out there.

    • FayeFaye says

      YAHOO! Jessica, I’m glad you’re going to read the first book soon! I really, really, really hope you like it. My expectations were pretty low when I first started it, and initially took it as all a silly, Shrek-like thing, but man, it just got huge in epic proportions later on that even my feels couldn’t take it :D Hope to see you review it soon as well!

    • FayeFaye says

      Yeah, Tedros was a bit meh. I don’t think his heart was simply in the right place, the last time around. Here, he can still be a wee bit frustrating BUT at least he’s heading towards the right direction.

      I can’t wait to see your review!

  5. says

    I have seen the cover of the first book and it gave me this cute manga feel. You’re right, my first impression was the book was all fluff and cuteness and I wasn’t in the mood for fluff and cuteness then so I passed on it. I think now I would have to try this out because I love the fact that underneath the adorable cover and fluffy premise lies something dark and emotional. I will definitely check this series out…after WiR of course ;)

    P.S. I broke my promise… I couldn’t stop with just book 1 of Unearthly! SORRY!!! :-/
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    • FayeFaye says

      Hah, that’s what I thought, too! A cute manga-ish, faity-tale-ish, shrek-ish book that would be awesome to read in a rainy afternoon :)) please do give it a try. It seriously needs more love. Besides, the first book’s film right has already been bought and it’s going to be a movie in a year or two, so better be one step ahead of the inevitable bandwagon, eh? :P

  6. says

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard of so many awesome characters in one book, most of them sound so great. Plus, character development much? Going from hating a character to understanding them is one of my favorite things when reading. I kind of thought these were fun little books too so it’s cool to hear that they are much deeper than that!
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    • FayeFaye says

      Yes, they go far, far deeper. It’s actually pretty chilling when I think about it. I hope you get to read this book someday and feel what I felt, Alise!

  7. says

    Wowowowow. I just came out of reading some pretty bad fairytale retellings, which I was extremely disappointed with – so to read your review for this really got me excited again. This series sounds SO good. And the characters all seems so in-depth and diverse – only a truly great author can put you through all those emotions. Wonderful review, definitely adding this to my TBR pile!
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    • FayeFaye says

      Haha! I saw your Grimm review. That one PALES, like absolutely Edward-Cullen-Pale, in comparison to this one. It’s not even a contest. I hope you read it soon, because this series needs more love!

    • FayeFaye says

      I think so, too! :D Have you seen the trailer of the first book yet? ONE. OF. THE. BEST. TRAILERS. EVEEEER