BEA'S BOOK NOOK "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." C. S. Lewis “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ― Oscar Wilde

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bea Reviews A World Without Princes by Soman Chainani

Publisher: HarperCollins
Series: The School for Good and Evil #2
Format Read: Hardcover
Source: PR firm in exchange for an honest review
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Buying Links: Amazon* | Book Depository* | OmniLit* | Barnes & Noble
* affiliate links; the blog receives a small commission from purchases made through these links.

Blurb from goodreads:

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.

Soman Chainani has created a spectacular world that Newbery Medal-winning author Ann M. Martin calls, “a fairy tale like no other, complete with romance, magic, and humor that will keep you turning pages until the end.”

Bea's Thoughts:

This was sent as an unsolicited review, and despite not having read the first book, the blurb appealed to me so I added it to my review TBR pile. Growing up, I loved fairy tales and as an adult, I still love reading them and I love reading updates, and twists on them. I had high hopes for the book and it met some of them. There's lots of originality, Chainani has good ideas, and seems to understand teen girls. BUT.

Oh, but. The messages this book sends had me tearing my hair out. Let me start by saying I wish I had read the first book, that would have helped. Apparently, at the end of book one, Agatha chose her friend Sophie over her prince charming, Tedros, even kissed her, thus violating the traditional fairy tale happy ending. Sounds promising, yes? Back home from school, Agatha and Sophie both begin to doubt their happy ending and then Agatha wishes for her prince, and a different happy ending. Trouble ensues and they find themselves back at the school where things have changed. The girls at the school of Good have decided that they don't need boys for a happy ending and boys have been violently evicted and stories re-written. And that's when it got messy for me. Chainani had the chance to explore relationships, friendship, equality, gender roles, and what is or is not a happy ending. But, but, but. Agatha and Sophie's friendship is just that, despite the occasional hint that it could be more. I had hoped Chainani would at least explore the possibiliy but he doesn't. And in fact it's explicitly stated by several characters that a HEA has to be a boy and a girl. Sadly, none of the other characters challenge that assertion.

Then there's the constant assertion that Agatha MUST choose between her best friend and the prince, ie a boy. Apparently, a woman can't have a best friend if she has a significant other and vice versa. She must choose. Oh really? Why? Yes, friendships can get a bit dusty or neglected when a woman is in a committed relationship, there's only so many hours in a day, but that doesn't mean that you can't have both. What a miserable message to send teens.

I also found it hard to warm up to either Sophie or Agatha. Sophie is selfish, conceited, and not very bright while Agatha was quite wishy-washy. Quite frankly, I didn't care if they got any happy ending at all. I wanted to slap both of them. That said, some of Sophie's selfishness was motivated by her need to be liked and loved, and don't most of us want that? That was another missed opportunity; Chainani coild have done so much with that. To Sophie's credit, she does try to be good, inspired by Agatha:

"Everything Good in me is because of you, Agatha. Isn't it time I did something Good for you too?"

And this scene briefly gave me hope but that was dashed too:
"But why would Merlin care whether gnomes were peaceful or changed sexes?" Agatha asked.

"Because he believed the two linked," said Yuba. "He believed the brief period of playful transformation allowed gnomes to be more sensitive and aware than other creatures. If there was a way for humans to have that experience, for a moment, you too would be as peace loving as the gnomes. All wars preempted, all notions of Good and Evil dissolved...mankind perfected."

I loved what Chainani did with fairy tales in terms of tweaking them and seeing outcomes for some of the stories. I wish he had gone deeper and pursued the notions of equality, gender, etc. I won't bother with the rest of the series.

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  1. I enjoyed reading your review and like that you mentioned the missed opportunities in the book to teach deeper lessons to teens. I have the first book in the series but haven't had the chance to read it yet. I'm sure when I do I will be looking a little deeper than the surface now. Great review!

  2. Good review, Bea! I love it when reviewers dig into the message or beliefs underpinning a story.

    It's too bad that the author missed an opportunity to really explore some of society's assumptions. I agree that the message that girls/women have to choose between (same-sex) friendship and (hetero) romantic relationship is a bad one to send. I have to wonder if the male author sends the same message about guys? In his world, do men have to give up their male friends for their female love interest? Because if the "giving up" isn't even-handed, that sends an even worse message.

    I've wondered about reading these, but given your concerns, I think I'll pass.


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