The School for Good and Evil

The School for Good and Evil

By: Soman Chainani

HarperCollins 2014

A young adult fantasy fairy tale


Agatha never believed the stories that the two children who go missing from her village every four years were kidnapped to attend the schools for fairy tale characters.  She certainly doesn’t think she belongs in some school for witches and villains, as everyone else in Gavaldon says.  Sophie not only believes, she yearns to reach the School for Good and emerge as the princess she was born to embody.  Plus, she will be lucky enough to have her best friend Agatha with her, only in the School for Evil.  When Agatha lands at the School for Good and Sophie is delivered to the side of Evil, fate, fairy tales, and friendship are thrown into consternation.  Will the girls realize their true fairy tale?  Will they live through it?  More importantly, will they end up still together or will their opposing roles drive them apart?

Chainani’s setting and characters usher readers into his fairy tale world with an intrigue mixed with an unusual directness and defiance.  Switching perspectives between the desperately seeking Sophie and the focused, loyal Agatha keeps the world and its questions spinning, the action has more urgency and the plot more suspense when balanced so well between two characters instead of centering on one focal point.  Thematically, this novel gets off to a slow start, but just when I despaired that the only theme would be appearances, the dark undercurrents of deeper chills and issues emerged.  These deeper subjects grow fast, and Chainani’s world of shifting-perspectives show them off brilliantly.  What starts as a stroll past a sunlit river, discussing the fallacy of looks quickly melds into a twisting chasm roaring with rapids that push Agatha and Sophie towards love, home, betrayal, riddles, success, hopes, and friendship, all while questioning which paths are truly good and which lead towards evil.  The fast pace of the action, the ever-building stakes, and the constant determination of both heroines kept me hooked and, by the end, reeling.  The School for Good and Evil climaxes in a wave that crashes down rather abruptly, but the fullness of that wave is beautiful and satisfying and, while sudden, the ending left me feeling splashed and wishing for more.

The School for Good and Evil reads like a true fairy tale, where each link in the chain feels inevitably bound to the others until the ending feels like a truth.  As a fairy tale enthusiast, that is the highest recommendation I can give to a new fairy tale work.  I will also say that the setting was vivid, all the characters continued to grow on me, as well as in the tale, and I loved the themes-they were fantastically done.  If you like fairy tales, detailed fantasy worlds, complex heroines, Ever After High, or quick-paced action tales, this is a book for you.  Go read it.

Daughter of Earth and Sky (Daughters of Zeus #2)

Daughter of Earth and Sky (Daughters of Zeus #2)

By: Kaitlin Bevis


Published by: Euterpe (December 2012)

A young adult fantasy review


(Review of Daughters of Zeus #1 here:


Persephone’s victory over Boreas proves short-lived.  Suddenly, a siren of a sister goddess rises and Persephone is saddled with acclimating Aphrodite.  Persephone’s realization of her powers causes friction with both Demeter and Melissa.  Zeus poses an increasing threat.  And no one can declare war on a deity quite like the god of death.  The stakes keep getting higher and Persephone finds herself sacrificing everything.  Will there be anything left to salvage in the end?

Daughter of Earth and Sky takes readers steadily further into the dark side of mythology.  No longer playing with the safe, familiar stories, Bevis thrusts Persephone straight into the world of endless appetites, divine demands for sex, death, and cruelty.  The effects feel much more immediate when you don’t already know at least the frame for the story.  Persephone acquits herself well, without losing her accessibility or plausibility.  The plot turns just fast enough so that predictions don’t overshadow the suspense.  The romance between Hades and Persephone turns easily with the story, a key part of the plot rather than gratuitous fluff.

In short, Daughter of Earth and Sky is the exemplary second book: new elements are introduced without encroaching on the old, obstacles are overcome to the point of facing the ultimate danger without giving away anything about the climax, characters experience real growth, romance reaches a level of satisfaction to offset the unfinished plotlines, and you want to read the next one.  Particularly because this book ended so abruptly.  If Persephone refreshed the roots for spring, Daughter of Earth and Sky grew the story’s stem.  Now we just need the blossom.


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By: Juliet Marillier


Alfred A. Knopf 2012

A young adult fantasy review


Neryn’s homeland of Alban brims with magical fairies, stonie mons, and other creatures.  Unfortunately, King Keldec has been systematically taking control of all Alban’s magic by turning it, and those who wield it, to his personal service for life.  Anyone who cannot be converted is ruthlessly stamped out.  Neryn, with her gift of seeing the fairy folk, knows about running, about hiding, and about the perils of trust.  What Neryn does not know is if Shadowfell, the fabled home of a resistance force, is real.    Yet, between the enemies that hunt her and the mysterious strangers who help her, Neryn becomes determined to make her own resistance count.  After all, battling Keldec’s oppression involves far more than a place.

Shadowfell includes many of the most recognizable themes concerning magical lands, tyrants, and discovering personal strength.  Marillier manipulates them into a modern, edgy atmosphere that balances the story’s tension against its familiarity.  The result is a story where the small events draw you in and keep you engaged despite the plot’s overall predictability.  It may be the type of story you’ve read before, but here it feels less like following a cast who knows they’re in a story and more like experiencing unsettling emotions applicable to real situations.  The personalities of Neryn and Flint center the story.  The relationship between the hunted girl and the mystifying man grows in complexities and questions as they near Shadowfell.  Seen through Neryn’s eyes, the dynamic is easy to empathize with and the shifts in the relationship are realistic.  Marillier deftly uses the relationship to illuminate the issues Shadowfell discusses.  Best of all, she does it without trying too hard.

Akin to a cross between the Tiffany Aching books and Legend of the Seeker, Shadowfell serves up a journey for those who like their protagonists to think.  For those who prefer lots of action or more light-hearted magical quests, this book might be a bit heavy.


Personally, I found myself drawn in after the rather stereotypical introduction.  I really enjoyed reading the book and I overall did like the characters.  Thinking back on it now, though, I cannot really recall why I liked it as much as I did.  It has a lot of qualities that I personally don’t care for, though they were turned to good account for those who like that sort of thing.  I can only hazard a guess that it was the balance between all the elements-I was never left with just one aspect long enough to get really unhappy with it.

Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy)

Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy #1)

By: Sarah Rees Brennan


Random House (September 11, 2012)

A young adult fantasy romance review

Kami Glass has come to terms with the fact that she may be crazy.  After all, when the voice you’re constantly connected to in your brain is the friend who makes you feel sane, even craziness seems safer than losing them.  Particularly when Kami’s zest for investigation begins exposing her quiet English town as a disturbing place.  Unfortunately, the new discoveries are happening everywhere and they are not abiding by the rules.  The founding family has returned to the town, animals are being ritually sacrificed in the woods, and supernatural things seem to be happening.  But for Kami, the most unnerving thing of all is meeting her imaginary friend…in the flesh.

Brennan writes with charm and creates voices that are distinctly fun.  For all of the strangeness of Kami’s private world with Jared, Unspoken is cheering and easy to read.  The mystery element folds in nicely, turning up new information at a good pace without losing suspense from any of aspect of the story.  The world of Sorry-in-the-Vale fills the novel with a sense of place, with a fully-functioning society to support the important characters, and with an atmosphere that feels natural, no matter what eccentricities came to light.

Most importantly, Unspoken plays with the notion of individuality and what it really means.  In order to care about this overall theme, Brennan really had to bring it with her characters.  She succeeded.  Kami heads a cast of three-dimensional people with histories and secrets.  Specific stereotypes are deliberately smashed and issues of class and race are included as they really would be, integral underlying matters that don’t need a lot of focus to touch on everything.  The discussion of physical beauty and attraction mirrors and complements Brennan’s discussion of personality and perception in such simple ways it was almost painfully wonderful.

Unspoken meddles with so many things: romance, mystery, magic, meaningful questions.  This novel works through as many layers as Kami and Jared do in their relationship with each other.  The ending clarity felt nearly wrong, with so many layers of suspense and wonder lost in the final revelations.  On the other hand, this is only book one and I see several reasons why Brennan may have wanted the ending to feel that way.  If nothing else, it felt fitting.  This is the first Sarah Rees Brennan book I have read and already I trust her to ultimately provide satisfaction.  Like Kami, I feel “strongly that Fridays should not be full of disappointments.”  Luckily, Unspoken offered me none.

First Frost

First Frost

By: Liz DeJesus


Musa Publishing Imprint: Euterpe 2012

A young adult fantasy review


Bianca’s life revolves around her mother’s family-run museum.  This museum is special because it holds artifacts from fairy tales, such as Snow White’s apple and Sleeping Beauty’s spinning wheel.  More importantly, the museum is a legacy that has always passed to the women of the Frost family.  At seventeen, Bianca Frost feels ready to break away from the inheritance, the tradition, and the magical objects of the museum.  After all, magic can’t be real.  Unfortunately, the truth about magic and fairy tales proves itself to Bianca in a most brutal way-sending her on a quest to discover her own powers, rescue her loved ones, and enter the story begun by the famous First Frost.

DeJesus writes with timely, vivacious humor.  First Frost is full of references to current sensations like Tina Fey and tokidoki, as well as to the Grimm’s tales.  This flamboyant tone moves the book at a quick rate and makes it easy to digest.  On the other hand, this persistently light feel occasionally overrides the influence of the plot.  It is difficult to sympathize and connect with characters who don’t seem to be taking their own crisis very seriously.  The dashes of romance and sprinkling of real feelings add layers, but don’t necessarily create fully fleshed-out characters.  However, the charm of this book lies in the alluring items, the rambling journey, and the colorful atmosphere.  Too much psychological depth or focus on the heroine’s many obstacles would have turned this into a very different work than the sweet, delicious medley DeJesus’s story is.

First Frost is the literary equivalent of frozen yogurt, covered with many tempting toppings.  It’s not traditional ice cream, and the toppings might leave some tastes less emphasized than you’d expect, but it’s a sweet, cool treat for the summer.


Okay, we need to talk about Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue.  Which is to say, this is a book that needs to be talked about, so right off the bat Miss Cashore has already won.  Apart from that, this is a different book to not only Graceling and Fire, but also other books in its genre.  It is special, or graced.

The last king of Monsea was graced with the ability to alter people’s minds, to alter their memories and perceptions, to make them do whatever he wanted-and King Leck wanted a great many vile things.  Over 35 years, he brought agonies of all kinds to everyone in his kingdom.  After his killing, his 10-year-old daughter Bitterblue ascended the throne.  Now it is eight years later and Bitterblue wants to assume the true power and purpose of a queen, rather than relying on the advisers who ran the kingdom for her as a child.  But Bitterblue isn’t sure what her kingdom needs from their queen.  How can she take her true power when she knows she isn’t being told about the present?  When she cannot get clarity about all that really happened under the reign of her father, even in her own foggy memories?  When her friends’ Council begin altering the politics and balance of power in the Seven Kingdoms, making the future dangerous?

Bitterblue’s story is different from other heroines.  She undergoes not one great journey, but dozens of curving, creeping quests that tangle around all she needs to know.  Bitterblue must explore her city, cope with her past, encounter first love’s sparks, learn who she truly is, and decide how to fit it all together so Monsea can finally heal.  Through a labyrinth of secrets and lies, Bitterblue strives to find truth, history, and good, but above all, she wants the ability to make things, everything, or just something, better.

Bitterblue’s world is complicated.  It moves with a depth and a realness that gives this story force.  Some may say ‘slow’, but that’s only looking at things from one angle.  As a mystery Bitterblue might be disappointing, even with all its twists.  As a fantasy novel, this work is short on action, villains, and glitter.  As a romance, it certainly falls by the wayside, particularly considering Cashore’s previous works.  For those who want an epic, graceful conclusion to the series the end does come quickly and without really tidying things up.  As a whole, living, breathing tale, Bitterblue’s world makes sense.  It pulls you in, it intrigues you, it comforts you, it moves you, and it includes a lot of things to both love and deplore.  Bitterblue is strong enough to lend something to those working through their own wounds and memories, while never bypassing or sugar-coating the pain or problems that come with that work.  Bitterblue is a strong book to send out into the world, and its satisfaction waits for those who want to find it, who want something deep, and dark, and awful, and beautiful.  Those who just want to read a well-written story, or to follow along on someone else’s adventures might not be able to find it.  That does not mean it is not there.

Extra thoughts:

-I wish people would stop complaining about the romance.  It wasn’t a romance, was it?  It was attraction, affinity, and a physical waking up.  All that was written beautifully.  I found it perfectly believable that this is what happened for Bitterblue, and I felt the boy was the right person for her to experience that with.  Also, just think what Katsa would say to characterizing her story just as a romance, or rejecting Bitterblue for the reason that she’s not really about getting a partner!  Spoilers: I understand that during the actual events of Bitterblue Giddon’s calm support is much more what she needed, but come on.  That does not equal romance.  Besides, what would a young girl actually want at that time?  Saf is someone she figured out herself, someone she could play with parts of her identity with and allow herself to explore new feels more freely, someone she could act forceful around-could slap, and fight, and know herself to make mistakes without it overwhelming her because he, after all, asked for it.  As a first-attraction/crush Saf works splendidly.  Yes, I see that Giddon/Bitterblue ship makes a lot of sense for her ultimate marriage and partnership, but a big part of this is that she is so not there yet.  It’s all okay.  Moreover, I remember having a much more adverse reaction to Giddon in Graceling than I ever did with Saf.  Saf’s issues stem from a strong sense of independence, where Giddon’s were more about patriarchal values and possessiveness.  Not to mention, if Giddon can improve so much in eight years, if Saf does come back after awhile, who’s to say he won’t exactly fit the picture of a good husband for Bitterblue by then?  Not that I’m advocating that, or think it should happen-I much prefer him as just the first love who must be lost.  Still, though, Giddon…I don’t see any real chemistry there.  Don’t forget, the reason she decided to talk truthfully to him was because she did not expect to be too close.

-I am incredibly jealous of Saf’s grace.

-I loved each and every connection toFire.  I loved how it was so integral to the story.

-Po’s story felt wonderful, and I love him, but he did start to feel a little too much like a plot device in there.  That’s my main nitpick with the book, actually.

-Katsa/Po from the outside is pretty much exactly like I expected it to be.  I wish I’d been a little bit surprised in there, somewhere.

-I adore Hava and want some sort of extra story or journal or, actually, make that an illustrated book of works for Bellamew.  Who doesn’t want to see those sculptures???  Get on it!

-Also, I’ve grown incredibly fond of Death and his Lovejoy. Spoilers: So much, in fact, that when the fire that burnt the journals happened my main concern was how upset it would make Death.

Spoiler: Brigan’s daughter must be running the whole Dell Army!  Hurrah!  That little detail made me happy.

Spoiler: How come we never find out for certain whether the pocketwatch does tell Dellian time or not?

Spoiler: Why is paint what Leck would use to try to ‘destroy’ sculptures?  Aren’t there chisels or sledge hammers or crow bars?  We know Leck was adept at swinging knives around, surely he could extrapolate.  I half expected them to find out that he wasn’t really trying to ruin them, but was trying to make them look like Dellian monsters by adding the bright colors.

-In my head Raffin and Bann ultimately live in two rooms: one full of medicines and experiments and the other full of buttered crumpets and other fluffy things, of edible and furniture varieties.

Spoiler: The person whose lies I was most upset about in this whole thing were Holt’s.  The other culprits were made very clear early on.  While Holt’s involvement was also pretty obvious it was not clear that he was involved willingly for so long, and he was so good and…fragile all the time.  I felt like his struggles were some of the clearest and they touched me more than a lot of other ones.  I am incredibly glad that he was the first one to receive a new Bitterblue task.

-I like Fox.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to get a side tale about her in her family life?

Modern “May Queen”


She stands for Youth;

-the May of the pure, to protect them and lead them.

She gives the world music;

Queen of singing,  Lullabye for a diadem.

The symbol of newness,

for all that must change-

shooting fertile gold arrows

into minds within range.



May overcomes fire,

brings creatures through snares.

It knows the evil spirits,

created what you see there.

The May Queen’s for trying,

for knowing your luck.

May odds be ever in your favor,

or you’re stuck.



The May Queen gathers blossoms,

accepts beauty comes from others.

A-Maying in the woods,

the art of love becomes her covers.

Her kisses are sweet,

that frolic and play.

To heal us to summer

and take pain away.



Her flowers she shields,

the primrose and blooms.

But it’s the roots we need now,

to lead the May dance from doom.

The May Queen comes upon our May Day

Each maiden is new, but has much to say.

Each coming summer there is a new Queen.

And this year we’ve reaped Katniss Everdeen.



The new May Queen is woodsy and young,

but is this where the dancing is done?

No, though shadows cling to Queen Katniss,

they show that all things can still end with a kiss.

A Virtual Celebration of Diana Wynne Jones

A Virtual Celebration of Diana Wynne Jones.


Diana Wynne Jones wrote things full of verve, imagination, and mindfulness.  You can tell she had fun writing them, you feel it would’ve been delightful to talk to her.  Her characters always had that little extra something that spices up worlds and makes you care about their stories.  Reading her books helped get me through challenging times and new situations.


And, most interestingly to me, she had a way of inserting horrible things into her youthful tales, while gliding over it so smoothly you had to stop and say, “Wait-what just happened?” to fully realize it.  Many of her fans I’ve discussed this with do not, in fact, remember these things to have happened at all.  “It’s because she’s so sneaky about it!” I reply.  It’s truly amazing.  This woman could flesh out her worlds with all the true things, good and bad, and explore both sides without darkening the mood.  You can read about downtrodden people, awful dilemmas, and come out recalling it as a veritable pastry of delicious storyhood, which would be perfectly true.  Such is the magic of Diana Wynne Jones.  No matter what else you think or remember about her books, her writings runs deep.  Yet, somehow, they never lose the light or the comfort of a fantasy playing out on the surface.


My favorite such fantasy is Hexwood.  In delicious pastry stories, this is the gooey, giant cinnamon bun to take out all others.