Thursday, May 5, 2016

REVIEW | The Last Ever After by Soman Chainani

The Last Ever After by Soman Chainani
Publication Year: 2015
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Fairy Tales
Series: The School for Good and Evil, #3
Awards: NA
Format: Audio (from Library)
Narrator: Polly Lee

WHY?: This series has been consistently thought-provoking if uneven in its story telling.  I was intrigued to finish the series!  My thoughts on Book 1 and Book 2.

NOTE: There will likely be spoilers for books 1 and 2 so beware!

If you had told me while I was reading the first third (felt like half) of this book that I would give it a 4 star review I would have given you a serious raised eyebrow of derision.  I spent much of the first part of this book making disgruntled noises and wanting to reach into its pages and shake its annoying characters.  Chainani seemed to have lost any idea of who his characters were and many of the things that bothered me about book 2 (that both Sophie and Tedros are actually terrible and the logic behind character's actions was completely M.I.A.)  were on full display and it just went on and on and on.  Tedros and Agatha did not just seem like a couple who are getting on each other's nerves but two people who actually hate each other and have nothing in common.  Sophie is as shallow as ever and her thoughts run in constant repetitive circles.  Thankfully, somewhere around the time that Merlin makes his debut, the book starts to turn around and I was soon completely adoring all the characters (well, not Sophie) and the journey Chainani was taking me on.

At the third (maybe halfway) mark, the book finds its narrative stride and starts to do all the things that has made the series so interesting.  It questions.  What is a happy ending? What is love? What makes a queen?  What does evil really mean? What if in all our fairy tales, evil won? How would we then feel about good? Basically it throws all those fairy tale tropes out there, mixes 'em up, tosses them around and forces the reader to think about them.  The way the book ends will undoubtedly be conflicting for some readers and loved by others, but one thing is for sure, it is definitely worth discussing by all.

Overall, even in the first section, the storytelling is less disjointed in this book than the first two and a number of the secondary characters are brought into sharper focus and given more depth.  I hadn't really connected with many of them before but in this book I finally feel like I developed some affection for Hort, the coven, Lady Lesso, and even, after the first section, Tedros.  There are a bunch of new characters too that captured my heart - especially Merlin, Guinivere and Lancelot. And this may be the first book  that has ever convinced me to like Guinivere and Lancelot.

The story also packs a wallop of tension that had me constantly and completely on edge about how things were going to end and there are a number of interesting twists and turns along the way.  Once I got to Part II, it became a book I couldn't put down and even prompted me to go desperately looking for spoilers because I couldn't handle the tension.  So when 'The End' was finally written, I was grinning and pleased and ready to forgive earlier trespasses.

However, I can't let the book get away without pointing out those things that knocked it down.  Some of the issues are ones that were a problem for me throughout the series.  The book is making an argument for the power of friendship which is great but I have never really bought into the cosmically powerful nature of Sophie and Agatha's friendship.  This book makes it worse by throwing Tedros into the mix and having him jealousy claim that Sophie is his best friend.  First of all, WHAT? Second of all, Sophie is a legitimately horrible friend.  Seriously, horrible.  Chainani keeps her just on this side of unlikeable but there is no argument in the universe that could be made to convince me that Sophie isn't the most terrible friend in the world.  In book one, it worked okay.  The stakes weren't terribly high and Agatha had a lonely and miserable existence before Sophie fake friended her so it made sense that she would cling to Sophie.  But in book 2, Agatha made many other friends, most of which were 10,000 times better than Sophie.  I can buy Agatha still having loyalty to Sophie but her and Tedros rhapsodizing about how perfect Sophie is and fighting over who loves her best?  It's too much and is perhaps where the fairy tale nature of the tale (which embraces hyperbole) doesn't work for me.  Because this relationship is so very important to everything that happens in this book, that is a pretty serious weakness indeed.

Also the first section that I grumbled about above?  I maybe could've handled it but it goes on for WAY TOO LONG.  I think Chainani really wanted to establish that Agatha and Tedros are in a very bad place and that Sophie is really confused but I really don't think he needed the amount of time it took him.  The section became incredibly repetitive and it wasn't needed in order to sell the direction of part II.  So I would warn anyone picking up the book to hang in there - it does get better just about the time you are losing hope!

FINAL VERDICT:  Despite some missteps, particularly in the early part of the book, it ends up having a lovely and exciting tale to tell that left me smiling and thoughtful. 4 out of 5 stars.

Other Opinions Are Available: The Book Smugglers | Zach's YA Reviews

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