Posted: 24 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT
Fairy tales continue to be turned upside down and inside out in this superb follow-up to last year's bestselling young adult fiction novel.
WHAT comes after you reach your happily ever after?
This is the question that kicks off Soman Chainani's sequel to his bestselling young adult (YA) novel, The School For Good And Evil (SGE). The first book brilliantly overturned fairytale tropes by setting its story in a school where children are divided into Evers and Nevers, where they train to become fairytale heroes and villains respectively, each pre-destined for a happy ending (or spectacular defeat). Best friends Agatha and Sophie, however, find their own happy ending at the close of SGE, one that no one saw coming, thanks to a crucial decision that Agatha makes.
A World Without Princes (WWP) throws us back into the thrilling world of the first book, but with one crucial difference: instead of good warring against evil, the fight is now between females and males! It turns out that when Agatha chose best friend Sophie over potential true love Tedros, she shook the very foundations of the fairytale world – because once princesses and witches everywhere realised there was no need to have a prince to be happy, they gave up battling each other and became friends instead.
What's more, they've booted the men out so they can make their own choices free of pesky male influences. The men do not take kindly to this, of course, and have now made females their sworn enemies.
The best thing about SGE was Chainani's ability to marry satire and laugh-out-loud humour with intense drama and thought-provoking subtexts, not to mention the clever ways in which he subverted familiar fairytale elements.
WWP manages to top that high standard thanks to its darker setting overall. Sophie and Agatha, are more more adult and much more conflicted not just about themselves, but their friendship. And Tedros is no longer the noble, desirable prince of old, but rather, a bitter, brokenhearted young man. And into this mix is thrown a new villain who has no qualms fanning the flames of the gender war to exploit the tensions.
As he did in SGE, Chainani enjoys venturing into the grey areas of life. Where SGE was about blurring the lines between good and evil, WWP questions pre-conceived notions about boys and girls, and their relationships with each other.
This is most apparent in Sophie. While SGE was focused more or less equally on both girls, WWP is very much about Sophie and her struggle to be worthy of Agatha's friendship by conquering her own demons. As spoilt and selfish as Sophie can be, there is something heartbreaking about how hard she tries and how often she is misunderstood.
The story cleverly weaves this in with Agatha's own dilemma of having to choose between friendship and love, and unlike most YA novels, Chainani refuses to provide a neat solution, preferring instead to keep things more complicatedly real.
His writing is rich and frenetic, with a multitude of fascinating characters and the plot whirling from one event to another. Yet the reader is never left behind, and the real emotions underlying the fantastical events keep us connected, all the way to the shocking end.
With a third book slated to complete the SGE trilogy, WWP is an excellent follow-up to Chainani's debut, doing what all good second books in a trilogy should do: being a great read on its own and yet also leaving the reader hungering for more.
Here's an interview The Star recently did with author Soman Chainani, Teller of tales.
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