Author: Soman Chainani Publisher: HarperCollins Genre: YA fantasy
It’s all been leading to this. Since the beginning of the series, Sophie and Agatha have been pulled apart by their natures, one to Good, the other to Evil. Trying to hold onto their deep friendship throughout has left both of them wounded. Each of the girls seems to have chosen love over friendship: Agatha with the prince she seems destined to marry, and Sophie with the wicked School Master, the Evil sorcerer who rules their world. But neither girl is truly happy.
When the situation in Gavaldon reaches a boiling point, Agatha and Tedros return to the Woods to try to rescue their friend, but can Sophie be saved? Does she even want to be? With the evil School Master now in control of both schools and an army of undead fairy tale characters rising to rewrite their stories so that Evil wins, Sophie and Agatha — once best friends — may be forced to face each other as bitter enemies to decide once and for all whose love will emerge victorious.
The School for Good and Evil series is full of references to magic and witches. Usually witches are portrayed in a negative way, but not always. The same goes for “Evil” characters, which sometimes act as antiheroes, or even act heroically. The books, including this one, examine our ideas of what makes good and evil. If you don’t have a problem with the supernatural, as used in the Harry Potter books, you won’t have a problem with the fairy tale magic on display here.
There are several instances of PG-level violence, including sword fights and blood, some magic-based violence, and a few character deaths. Some characters are injured at the hands of a cruel character, but the violence happens off screen.
There are a few examples of crude humor, usually the kind of thing that will go over a child’s head, but adults will understand. For example, at one point a character insinuates that Peter Pan ended up with Tinkerbell as a romantic interest because he might not “measure up.”
Because it is a children’s book, there is very little sexual content. A few of the characters dress provocatively, especially the School Master, who is the “bad boy” character of the story and spends most of the book shirtless, which does not go unnoticed by Sophie. There are quite a few passages in which these young characters dwell on the attractiveness of boys.
Other negative and positive themes
Because Sophie’s character is on a rather dark path, she tends to make choices that are wrong. Characters sometimes lie or hide the truth from each other. Most of these actions are shown plainly to be wrong, and have consequences the characters must face. There is a strong theme of love, goodness, and friendship throughout the story and the series in general. The character of Agatha in particular is a beautiful example of a noble soul trying her best to act selflessly, even in the face of her own desires.
If you have been reading Soman Chainani’s wonderful School for Good and Evil series, all your questions are about to be answered. Who ends up with whom? Does Sophie choose Good or Evil in the end? Do Sophie and Agatha remain friends after the dust settles? What about the mysteries the books have been hinting about those swans and Gavaldon? The answers to those questions and more are revealed. If you haven’t been reading the series, I recommend that you skip this review for now and go ahead and start with book one, because this is one of the best Young Adult fantasy series on the market today.
To me, ever since Book One, the question was always, “How’s it going to end between Sophie and Agatha?” Agatha started out as an almost unbelievably pure character, kind and selfless to a fault, but one who didn’t believe in herself at all. Now she has helped to save the school twice, and it’s looking as if she’s going to get her prince, Tedros, which will make her a princess… and she doesn’t know how to deal with that. Inside, she’s still the awkward girl that used to live in a graveyard and had no friends. She has come a long way, made a few mistakes, and we finally get to see what kind of person she ends up being.
Sophie’s problems have always been the opposite; she is not a kind and selfless person by nature; she can be downright awful, and it’s only through Agatha’s friendship that she begins to realize a different way to live. Sophie has always seen herself as a princess, but acted like a witch, and now that it looks like Agatha is going to be the one to end up with a fairy tale ending—one that doesn’t need her in it to be happy—the good façade she has been building is starting to crack. Is there a genuine good heart underneath? And even if there is, can it stand in the face of all the other feelings that she seems to get swept away in? The Last Ever After is Sophie’s final chance at a happy ending, and the only person standing in her way is herself.
I’m not usually a fan of love triangles in stories, but this one has been fascinating to watch and I admit that I was fully invested in the relationships on display here. Sophie and Agatha are best friends, with a friendship that has, on at least one occasion, transcended romance. They complete each other. But both girls are in love with the same boy, and now their friendship is teetering on the brink of heartbreak. Now that Sophie has seemingly chosen the School Master as her love, you might think they would have found a kind of balance. However, all those old feelings have not gone away peacefully, and both girls are struggling with feelings of self-worth that drive their characters as furiously as any romance. Tedros, for his part, finally grows up as a character and becomes someone we can kind of cheer for (at least a little). He has strong feelings for both girls, one as a True Love (or so he thinks), and the other as a Best Friend (or so he thinks). But a single act of selfless love is enough to upset the balance and force all the characters to confront their feelings. The stakes of these relationships are as high as the fantasy war that rages in the background.
Chainani’s prose is great. Some of the passages ring with poetic power, others just carry the story along simply, without drawing attention to the writing itself. It’s an almost perfect blend. This book holds some of the best writing in the series.
The new characters are absolute fun. We get to meet older versions of fairy tale heroes, like a Pinocchio with the habit of blurting out the unfiltered truth, or a Peter Pan who has grown up and put his childhood behind him, and a Cinderella that seems heartless, but is hiding a story that puts a new spin on her fairy tale. Also, a certain famous wizard makes his appearance, taking the Obi-Wan Kenobi role in the story to great effect. Older characters return, such as a familiar coven of young witches who think they are eviler than they actually are, and some grown-ups whose mysteries are finally ready to be revealed. I would have liked to see a few of the more minor characters get a little more screen time, but the book is nearly twice as long as the others in the series, so I understand.
There are enough surprises, magic, and high-stakes romance here to keep readers thoroughly entertained. You can see a strong moral of unselfish love weave its way throughout the tale. Sophie and Agatha finally become the characters they have been becoming for the entire series, and it’s immensely satisfying to behold. The Last Ever After is a beautiful conclusion to one of my favorite modern fantasy series, with an ending that is worth the price of the journey.
A lover of Jesus and of fantastical fiction, Silas Green talks books and Christian living on Geeks Under Grace. He spends the rest of his free time trying to write stories and exploring the paradise island in the Pacific on which he is stranded.
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