Between the Pages: School of Good and Evil #1 by Soman Chainani

Cover of "The School of Good and Evil."
If you guessed that I bought this book because of the pretty cover, you are definitely not wrong. The deceptively innocent cover actually fits its overall theme of not judging a book by its cover. I was lucky this time though, since I did end up enjoying the book.

I grew up watching fairy tales and happily-ever-afters, and have always noticed what is famously known as the Disney formula.

The formula basically goes with a story's characters composed of a beautiful princess, an ugly villain and a rescue by a handsome prince or hero. Basically, the princess is pretty useless. A Disney movie usually has two or all three of these elements in their movies.

This book is a satire of that formula. But not the satire Shrek is. In this story, the most beautiful girl in the village is not the princess and the outcast is not the witch. It is a book that teaches the lesson that good and evil is beyond what is skin deep.

 The one thing that probably made me question was the fact it is marketed for 8-12 year old children, despite featuring torture, murder, kidnapping and bullying. However, I suppose if it worked for Harry Potter, it can work here and I recommended that book to my 10 year old brother at that time.

When I first read the story, I didn't think that the concept of a a high school divided between the heroes and the villains was anything new. It has been explored before in for example, the show "Ever After High." However, while the concept of what made a person a hero or villain was much more simpler, I like that this book doesn't really treat the reader like he/she is an idiot that won't understand beyond the black and white.


Agatha and Sophie.
The story begins with two different young girls from a village called Cavaldon in the midst of a dense forest who despite their differences became friends.

One was Agatha, who was known as the village witch for her dark appearance and macabre lifestyle. The other is Sophie, who was the most beautiful girl in their village.

Every four years two children from their village is taken, and they discover that later they reappear as characters from fairy tale stories, such as Jack and the beanstalk and Rapunzel. The pattern is always the same. One good and one evil. 

While the village children did their best to not be taken and some even altering their appearances, Sophie wanted to be taken because she dreamed of more in life. She wanted to be a princess with a happily-ever-after. Agatha, however just wanted a life with her first ever friend.

(L to R) The School for Good and the School for Evil.
That wish was in vain though since in the end both girls were taken with Sophie as a willing victim and Agatha trying to rescue her friend. However, to their shock Sophie was dropped off at the School for Evil and Agatha was dropped off at the School for Good.

The students from the school for good were called, Evers --- while those in the school for Evil were called, Nevers.

At first neither girl fit in at their schools and stood out because they didn't look like the conventional princess or villain. Sure that this had been a mistake, they have even attempted to switch places a few times.

Agatha was wise enough to understand that something wasn't right. She learned the story of the two brothers who were the original Head Masters of the school. One of the brothers was killed in the battle the two waged, however no one knew which side won. When it was clear that staying would mean one of them wouldn't survive, Agatha finally convinced Sophie that they needed to return home. They infiltrated the School Master's tower to plead with him to allow them to return home. They discovered the magic pen called, the Storian that told the fairy tales in their books. It had great power to decide who won. Good or evil.

However, the Head Master wasn't very helpful and instead gave them a riddle which they believed would be their clue to return home.

"What is the one thing that Evil can never have ... and the one thing Good can never do without?"

As the story progressed, it became more and more clear that there had been no mistake. Sophie excelled at being Evil and Agatha ranked among the top 5 of her class. For Agatha, she was only making an effort because she didn't want to be turned into one of the pieces or animals the unimportant characters of the story turn into.

The two girls later figure out the answer to the riddle. It was "True Love." Sophie had fallen in love with the handsome golden boy from Good, Tedros, the son of King Arthur. While Tedros was one of those who initially believed that Sophie was Good because of her beauty at first, he had later learned of her deceptive ways and wanted nothing to do with her. It wasn't helping that he was so drawn to Agatha. This confused him since Agatha hated him and he thought that she was in the wrong school since he was not like the other girls in "his" school.

Tedros, son of King Arthur.
At first, she tried getting Tedros attention in the pretense of being Good and in need of rescue. However, her vanity, lying and the fact that she was so ready to throw her friends under the buss wasn't helping her bag him. Since none of her tricks were working, Agatha began helping her by telling her to be herself, helping her study and feeding her lines to get him to like her.

This worked at first, but after the Trial by Tale their deception became clear and that wasn't all. It also became clear that Tedros was Agatha's true love. No matter how much she joined the conspiring to get Tedros to love Sophie. This made the already volatile Sophie furious and began showing symptoms of Evil. This meant that her Nemesis will be revealed soon.

With the Snow Ball, this world's equivalent to a prom approaching Tedros was torn who to ask. He had made a promise to Sophie, but after finding out Agatha had been helping her he didn't want to honor it.

At the Circus of Talents, people were noticing Agatha turning more and more into her princess character. Sophie later appeared as well, her beautiful appearance gone and instead had turned into an ugly crone. The Good win the Circus of Talents and Tedros instead asked Agatha to go with him to the Snow Ball. This sent Sophie in a frenzy and hurt many people who had been trapped inside the Circus. This lead students to capture her and imprison her. To their surprise though, Sophie didn't seem at all bothered by everything.

Later, invitations came to the Nevers that Sophie had set their own ball which she called, No Ball. Feeling threatened by Sophie's attacks and believing she would only grow worse, Tedros proposed that they attack. Agatha begged them to reconsider, unfortunately the well-meaning Tedros imprisoned her to protect her and led the attack to the Nevers.

Wanting to stop her fellow Evers and Tedros from making what she was sure to be a mistake, Agatha escaped and beat them to the School for Evil where the Nevers were getting their ball ready. Sophie was there and manipulated Sophie to dance with her, Tedros sees them and felt betrayed. Remembering his mother's betrayal, he attempted to shoot Agatha. She was saved by Sophie. This changed something in the balance.

One of the first lessons they had was that, "Evil attacks, and Good defends." What happened when it becomes the other way around? The Nevers became beautiful and the Evers lost their beauty, with the exception of Agatha. Sophie became even more beautiful. The two sides battled, but Agatha had not forgotten who the real enemy was.

The masked School Master.
During the battle, they discovered that it was the evil brother who lived. He had killed his brother, but the before he died had placed a spell that made sure the evil brother wouldn't have power over the Storian. It would be broken if he founds true love. His true love was Sophie. Taken by his promise of a happy ending, she kissed him. However, she felt a rush of guilt for everything she had done and declared that she wanted to be good.

The angry Head master used the Storian to attempt to kill Agatha. Sophie sacrificed herself and saved her. Desperate for a happy ending for both of them, Agatha kissed her and this triggered the magic of true love which saved Sophie. The two girls finished their story and their happily-ever-after and disappeared. Tedros, who was still in love with her, reached out to Agatha but the two girls disappeared.


Agatha of Gavaldon;
from the School for Good

Agatha of Gavaldon - If we were to look at Agatha from a superficial standpoint, she is a shoe-in for the School for Evil. She lives in a graveyard, owns a black cat and her mother was the village witch. She feels most at home with isolation, the dark and the macabre. Doesn't that sound like most Disney villains we know? Such as Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty and even Ursula from Little Mermaid.

I find Agatha to be an interesting character. Between her and Sophie, the essence of learning of what it means to be good really comes from her since she does take time to understand and ask questions. The teachers really want her to understand what makes an Ever. Because for all Agatha's struggle with Beautification classes, she had the kindest heart in that school. She showed kindness not only to woodland creatures, but also the ugly like the gargoyles. She took time to understand the world beyond the picture-perfect surface and discovered the fate of those who failed in their roles.

I had to ask the question why she and Sophie were friends at the beginning. Maybe she was that desperate for a friend and ached to be liked but did not know how. Sophie was the first person to ever call her friend and she wanted that. I wish they showed more of the development of their friendship prior to the story.

For a while I had been a little worried about her character, especially towards the end. I wanted her be more "heroine" than "princess" and towards the end I was afraid she was definitely going to go towards the "princess" route. I was glad that she didn't and int the end chose to save her friend, the villain than her typical happily-ever after with her prince, a prince that wasn't really needed after all. Yes, for me there is a difference between the typical princess and the heroine. There is nothing wrong with being a princess, it just seemed too out of character of her to act as such. I fully expected for her to choose an outcome where everyone survives even if it meant hardship.

Sophie of Gavaldon;
From the School for Evil
 Sophie of Gavaldon - Unlike Agatha, Sophie on the outside looked like your textbook storybook princess. She had blonde hair and known to be one of the most beautiful girls in the village. She loves pink and spends a lot of time making potions for her skin and hair so she can even be more beautiful.

She wanted to go to the School for Good badly. Not only did she work hard on her appearance, she began doing good deeds to prove she was Good material. One of these good deeds was Agatha, but later they became friends. Not that any of that had been very helpful since she in the end, ended up in the School for Evil.

Once at the school though, Sophie made terrible choices and had acted like a terrible friend. Not only to Agatha but also to her roommate, Dot. She tends to use her friends to get ahead, telling herself that it was the right thing to do to get her happily-ever-after.

I actually like Sophie's character as well. While she had been shallow, I wouldn't really call her evil at the beginning of the book. She had the desire to be good, but in a way her environment wasn't helping in nurturing any good side she had and she couldn't get pass her shallowness. Her turn to the villain from the shallow girl was an interesting thing to read.

Tedros of Camelot, Son of King Arthur;
From the School for Good
Tedros of Camelot, Son of King Arthur - He is the textbook prince charming. He is handsome and talented in combat. Throughout the book I get torn  whether to like or dislike him. He acts pretty annoying, but when you get a look inside his head he really isn't a bad guy. He feels a lot of pressure as the son of King Arthur and he was really initially quite uninterested in romance because of what happened to his father.

Like many of the students from the School for Good, he is shallow and cocky. Discouraged from finding his "princess" because of what had happened with his mother, he wanted more than just beauty. When he had began liking Sophie, he even fully expected her to fight with him rather than simply have him fight for her. Understandably, he also doesn't take betrayal well and it seems instinct for him to kill before thinking.

All in all, he is a very flawed prince but I don't think that is a bad thing in a character. I remember how much I used to dislike him and I even texted my brother that I wanted to kick him in the groin. He still has a lot to learn in what it took to be good. While he has good intentions, that just isn't enough. He might be the son of King Arthur and is from the School of Good, being good isn't from what you are, it is from what you do.


The School for Good and Evil
with the School Master's Tower on the right.

The illustrations were made by Iacopo Bruno, whom had done illustrations before for big names like Neil Gaiman (Coraline, The Graveyard Book), Holly Black (Spiderwick Chronicles) and Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl).

The cover was one of the things that drew me to buy the book. The illustrations are really something out of a fairy tale but it is still dark enough to suit the mood.

I love the design for the characters. It is colorful enough to attract the younger age set, but dark enough to pique the curiosity of an older audience. At least that is how it worked for me.

However, like my brother says that it is nice that the art can catch the reader's attention the essence is in what is written.

That might be so, but personally I would feel a little better about buying it even if it wasn't a good read with such beautiful art. Look at it! It is gorgeous! --- I know, I am probably no better than the superficial students from the School for Good. Makes sense, since I took a test and apparently I am a Ever. Gaze upon my 100% authentic certificate --- certifying me as an Ever for the School for Good.

For your own Ever or Never certificate, go here.


Soman Chainani
Soman Chainani's first novel, THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL, debuted on the New York Times Bestseller List, has been translated into 22 languages across six continents, and will soon be a major motion picture from Universal Studios.

The sequel, A WORLD WITHOUT PRINCES, debuted on the New York Times Bestseller List as well. Together, the first two books of the series have been on the print and extended NYT lists for a total of 31 weeks.

As a writer and film director, Soman's films have played at over 150 film festivals around the world, winning more than 30 jury and audience prizes, and his writing awards include honors from Big Bear Lake, New Draft, the CAPE Foundation, the Sun Valley Writer’s Fellowship, and the coveted Shasha Grant, awarded by a jury of international film executives.

When he’s not telling stories or teaching in New York City, Soman is a die-hard tennis player who never lost a first-round match for ten years . . . until he started writing THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL. Now he loses all the time.


The thing that bothered me about the book was this book lacked was the lack of supporting character development. There were some memorable characters like Beatrix, Dot and Kiko but there really had been little or no growth at all. I am pretty sure it is intentional, but I find the characters from the School of Evil more likable than any of the characters in the School of Good.

It is an interesting way to learn about the gray areas of good and evil. Evil isn't simply evil without a reason and good isn't just about looking good. Though it goes against that point since she had to suddenly become "beautiful" to represent that she was Good.

I also do like the comedy. When I saw their schedules and subject names for each school, I just snorted. Though some of the subjects begin to make sense later in the book. Still, my initial reaction was a smile. Not that it isn't possible. I actually did have a class in college that focuses on how we put on make up.

I can understand the focus is more on the two girls, but I just wish I didn't feel like majority of the time the supporting characters are around simply to be props. Again, maybe this is intentional since in the story the lesser memorable girls are most likely to become props when they graduate into their fairy tale anyway.

Unmistakably, this book has flaws but I think I am just nitpicking mostly. Despite all that nitpicking, in general I enjoyed this book and I really couldn't put it down once I started reading it. It is an impressive debut work and I am definitely finishing this whole series. I would recommend these series to those who enjoy a good fairy tale, but probably from an age set that is a little older than what was given on the book.


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