One book I disliked, one I enjoyed: this week’s reading

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL by Soman Cbainani has an excellent concept: in a village out of a Disney princess movie, the mysterious School Master kidnaps two kids every few years and takes them to the eponymous school to train as fairytale characters. This year he picks up pretty, performatively good Sophie and her friend Agatha, a gloomy Goth girl — but oh noes, Sophie’s assigned to Evil and Agatha’s in Good! Can they adapt?

The big flaw in this is that we’re supposed to take Sophie and Agatha seriously as BFFs and I never believed it. Sophie’s clearly condescending when she befriends Agatha — it’s part of her general charitable efforts in the hopes of attracting the School Master’s eyes — and throughout the book she keeps breaking her word to her friend or ignoring her feelings. You can build a character arc around that, but Chainani doesn’t — at no point does he acknowledge Sophie’s a thorough jerk.

Another problem is that while the Evil students really seem Evil, the good students aren’t even performative: they’re selfish and shallow, the Ugly Stepsisters only prettier. Equating pretty with good, and the problems with doing so, worked fine in Wicked, but most Disney princesses are good-hearted, while many Evil characters are attractive (Gaston, Snow White’s evil queen). There are several sequels but I’ve no interest in any of them.

Walter Tevis’ THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH is a book that deserves a much better movie than the David Bowie film (though Bowie was certainly well cast). Thomas Newton’s goal here is much more interesting: make a fortune, bring the few survivors of his people to Earth, then use his wealth to manipulate human politics and avert the otherwise inevitable nuclear war. As in the movie, alcohol and government interference thwart Newton’s plans, but here it makes coherent sense rather than disjointed rambling. I enjoyed it.

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