Heart of Thorns book cover

The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil, #1)

The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil, #1)The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil, #1) by Soman Chainani
Published by HarperCollins on May 14, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 488
Source: Self Purchase

The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before. Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each. But if at first the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear. One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own. The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth. An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.

This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.

But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School For Good, thrust amongst handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are…?

I read The School for Good and Evil many years ago, and had always meant to continue on with the rest of the series, but one thing led to another, and I sort-of forgot all about it. Well, after spending some time removing books from my Goodreads TBR list, ones that I knew I’d never actually get to, I came across book two in the The School for Good and Evil series. I recalled enjoying book one, so then and there I decided I wanted to finally continue with the series. However,  first I needed to re-read book one, because it had been so many years, and I definitely knew I didn’t remember enough to read books 2, 3, and so forth.

And, wow! It only took about 50 pages, before I remembered that I loved The School for Good and Evil. This series is a delicious, magical dish, concocted with clever, hilarious, heartwarming, and at times, very dark ingredients. It explodes with creativity and magic, and I hated having to put it down for silly things like work, sleep, etc.   

The School for Good and Evil is a shining example of the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”. You have two girls, one dark, sullen, and macabre, and one who’s vivacious, bright, and constantly called extremely beautiful. You’d think it’d be obviously as which girl belongs in which school, but not so fast! Looks can be extremely deceiving, and in a surprising move to everyone in this book, the melancholy girl is dropped into the school for good, and the angelic-looking one, the school for evil.

I loved how this book was all about shades of gray.  There’s no such thing as perfect. Everyone has their own strengths, flaws, and weaknesses, and hard choices to make, and those choices are what defines you, not your appearance and/or personality. Being beautiful doesn’t make you good, and being ugly doesn’t make you bad.

I’m so glad I reread this book! It’s got magic, budding romance, and lots and lots of fairy-tale characters and creatures. Plus, it’s all about sisters before misters. *high five*

Heart of Thorns book cover

Shadow and Bone (The Grishaverse #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone (The Grishaverse #1) by Leigh BardugoShadow and Bone (Grisha Verse, #1) by Leigh Bardugo
Published by Henry Holt and Company on June 5, 2012
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 358
Source: Self Purchase

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

I dragged my feet with starting The Grishaverse series, because there’s such a huge, intense fandom that loves it, and I was afraid I’d be that odd duck who didn’t. I’m glad I finally read Shadow and Bone, because it was a good read, but like I feared, I didn’t think it was amazing. I ended up feeling like it was  just an average YA high fantasy. You can see some of my likes and dislikes below –

I liked:

Alina, because her character was well-conceived. She doesn’t suddenly become a formidable bad-ass because she discovers she has powers. Alina has very little physical and emotional strength to begin with, so when it’s revealed that she has the potential to be great, and make a difference in the world, she spends the rest of the book strengthening her body, mind, and magical abilities.

The mystery surrounding The Darkling was really intriguing and exciting. He’s that dark, brooding, mysterious and attractive male character who always draws my interest in books. His motivations and agenda was so hard to grasp, and it made me want to understand him desperately. He seemed to toe the line between light and dark, but maybe he didn’t? Maybe he already had chosen a side but he wouldn’t or couldn’t reveal it? He’s a really deep character, and it drove me nuts not knowing who or what he really was.

There are some magic-wielding Grishas who can control fire and wind – been there done that – and then there’s some who have the really cool ability to manipulate and mold materials like metal and bone. That was so cool! So unique!

What I didn’t like:

The pace was very slow. A good chunk of this book takes place at the Grisha palace, where Alina is strengthening her body and her powers. This section bored me. The Darkling is off doing mysterious things, and I constantly wished that he’d return. The story felt dull when he wasn’t apart of it.

Alina and Mal… ugh. I liked their friendship, their shared childhood history, and interactions, because it’s super heartwarming, but the idea of them romantically involved just rubbed me the wrong way. There’s comfort and sweetness there, but no passion. Their relationship was familiar and steady, but lacked sizzle. I much preferred the idea of Alina and The Darkling getting together, because they’re both the most powerful magic users in the world, and therefore relate to each other in a way they can’t relate with anyone else.  Plus: The Darkling bursts with sex appeal and allure  – yum!

The ending of Shadow and Bone was really surprising, and a tiny bit epic, so I really hope book two builds on that and ends up being smashing.