Audiobook Review: A World Without Princes by Soman Chainani

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Audiobook Review: A World Without Princes by Soman ChainaniA World Without Princes by Soman Chainani
Narrator: Polly Lee
Length: 13 hrs, 3 mins
Series: The School for Good and Evil #2
Published by Harper Audio on April 15, 2014
Genres: Adventure, Fairy Tales, Romance
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
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one-star

In the epic sequel to the New York Times bestselling novel, The School for Good and Evil, Sophie and Agatha are home, living out their Ever After. But life isn’t quite the fairy tale they expected. 

When Agatha secretly wishes she’d chosen a different happy ending, she reopens the gates to the School for Good and Evil. But the world she and Sophie once knew has changed.

Witches and princesses, warlocks and princes are no longer enemies. New bonds are forming; old bonds are being shattered. But underneath this uneasy arrangement, a war is brewing and a dangerous enemy rises. As Agatha and Sophie battle to restore peace, an unexpected threat could destroy everything, and everyone, they love—and this time, it comes from within.

Soman Chainani has created a spectacular world that Newbery Medal-winning author Ann M. Martin calls, “a fairy tale like no other, complete with romance, magic, and humor that will keep you turning pages until the end.”

*sighs deeply* This one’s gonna be a rant, guys. It makes me sad, because this series had so much promise and the audiobooks are wonderful. The School for Good and Evil had some worrisome themes, but I was hoping they would be cleared up in A World Without Princes. Actually, though, the messages of the series have only gotten more upsetting with time. Though I did still really enjoy listening to the book, and Lee’s narration is totally on point, I can no longer ignore the rage-inducing aspects.

frozen i won't take this bullshit

At the end of The School for Good and Evil, Agatha kisses her friend Sophie instead of her prince, and they both get to go back to their hometown, not in the magic world. As the story opens, they’re readers again, enjoying some amount of fame for having been the only two stolen children to ever return. However, Agatha finds herself missing Tedros and wishes for him. This opens the door to fairy tale and both Agatha and Sophie are sucked back to what used to be The School for Good and Evil.

The landscape of fairy tale has been changed by Sophie and Agatha’s kiss. It’s now a world without princes. Their tale resulted in the realization that a prince isn’t needed for a happy ending, which, for some reason, resulted in a change to all prior tales. Now Guinevere is famous, not Arthur. Princesses everywhere saved themselves, banishing the princes. The school is now divided into Boys and Girls, rather than Good and Evil. This premise could have been hilarious,  but was mostly just frustrating.

Tries to cross the tricky plot ice, but fails

Tries to cross the tricky plot ice, but fails

What could have been a thoughtful consideration of gender roles comes off like it’s mocking feminism and subtly upholding patriarchal gender roles. The people advocating for women not needing princes are shown to be villains. The princesses who shave their heads or indulge in chocolate are viewed as figures of mockery, while Dot, who was fat and evil before, is considered much improved now that she’s slimmed down. While, yes, insisting that no woman should have a prince is going too far, the fact that the story wants to uphold the fairy tale tradition of girls needing boys is also not okay. You’d think the ultimate message would come down somewhere in the middle, in a place of equality and making your own choices, but I assure you that it doesn’t.

disappointed Frozen

The whole book hinges on Agatha’s needing to choose between Sophie, her best friend, and Tedros, her prince. I cannot emphasize enough how frustrated I am that the book’s main message is that a girl cannot have a best friend and a boyfriend at the same time. You can only care about one person at once. Loving Tedros means not loving Sophie, and vice versa. Once you enter into a romance, you must sign away all of your friends, because obviously, once you’re in a relationship, you cannot talk to anyone but your significant other. Happily ever after in your world for two. The only positive thing I can say about this is that Tedros also has the friend versus princess dilemma, so it’s not just women who cannot have friends if they’re in a relationship.

Frozen I can't

I feel like this shouldn’t have to be said, but YOU CAN BE IN ROMANTIC LOVE AND STILL HAVE OTHER FRIENDS. In fact, if your love requires you to drop your other friends, it’s probably not healthy. I’m not saying that Chainani set out to send this message, because it all feels like it might just have been done as a plot point. The implications of the plot, however, are far-reaching and uncomfortable.

Yeah, no.

Yeah, no.

frozen love is putting someone else's needs before your

What really angers me though is how fucking heteronormative this series is. By the end of book two, there have been two kisses between people of the same gender (View Spoiler », and yet there’s no consideration of homosexuality as a concept AT ALL. The idea is completely ignored. It’s absent entirely.

I mean, it’s even said in the book that Agatha chose Sophie as her true love over Tedros. However, that’s just friendship, and there’s no chance of a romance there. Friendship is powerful, sure, but, as I pointed out, there’s no reason she can’t have romantic love and friendship. This plot only makes sense if she’s having to choose between a bisexual love triangle. That’s not going to happen though, because just as this series holds up traditional gender roles, it clings to heteronormativity. The fact that there’s no mention of GLBT, despite the same-sex kisses and gender swaps, is to me criminally offensive. In this set up, ignoring these issues is completely unacceptable.

frozen i just aw fuck

All of this saddens me, because, if there were a bisexual love triangle and healthy messages of friendship and feminism, I would fucking love this book. The ideas are so clever and the writing is good. There’s SO MUCH PROMISE. Even with how pissed off I am now, I’ll no doubt continue to read this series, because I love the narration on the audiobook. Also, I continue to hold out a hope that at some point all of the sexist, illogical bullshit will be overthrown with a message on tolerance and independence. PLEASE LET THAT HAPPEN.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

fuck it all frozen

15 responses to “Audiobook Review: A World Without Princes by Soman Chainani”

  1. Bonnie says:

    I passed the deadline to review this and as a result it got pushed to the back burner. I was disappointed in book one but impressed with the authors writing skills however this sounds like one big hot mess. I’m not sure I even want to bother.
    Bonnie recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday – Movies/Shows and their Literary CounterpartsMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      I mean, it was still entertaining enough I was originally thinking 2.5, if only for how good the audio performance is, but I really can’t endorse these horrible messages with a 2.5. So here we are.

  2. Gillian says:

    Whomp whoooooomp. This series has SOOOO MUCH PROMISE. WHYYYY. Also perfect gifs are perfect.
    Gillian recently posted…Top Ten Books If You Like FrozenMy Profile

  3. Ugh definitely steering clear of this one! I am a huge feminist and the fact that this book is basically mocking feminism by portraying them as the bad guys is infuriating. Sorry this one didn’t live up the expectations of the first book!
    Eileen @ Singing and Reading in the Rain recently posted…Youth by DaughterMy Profile

  4. Lyn Kaye says:

    This makes me sad. I was going to give the book a shot, but if the entire plot revolves around attacking feminist views, then fuck it all. UGH.
    Lyn Kaye recently posted…Introducing: Nightmare Novels!My Profile

  5. Brandy says:

    “This plot only makes sense if she’s having to choose between a bisexual love triangle.”

    I wonder if this is what was intended, but they are being all cryptic about it to keep it “safe” as a MG book? Which doesn’t make sense, as it has enough fuel to light the fire of elementary school parent book banner wannabes anyway. The biggest complaint I’ve seen about this one is that choice between friendship and love and it DOESN’T make sense. I haven’t read it, because I didn’t like the first one, but I’m really confused about what these books are trying to do. I think the author might be confused too.
    Brandy recently posted…Saving Lucas BiggsMy Profile

  6. Ohhh this is so disappointing to read. For the most part I really quite enjoyed The School of Good and Evil and had been planning on reading the sequel…now, not so much. I totally get all of your complaints about this one and I’m pretty sure I’d have the same problems if I read it.
    Hopefully someone will pick up on the awesomeness that could have been this book and really go all-out to take advantage of the powerful messages it could present.

  7. How very disappointing. The idea of the school being divided between boys and girls sounded so great and I was hoping to get something like Frozen. A message that you don’t NEED a boy to survive, but it’s a shame that it’s mocked in this book 🙁 I always hate it when the MC feels that she needs to pick between a relation or a friendship. It doesn’t work that way.
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…Early Review 256. Jennifer Donnelly – Deep blue.My Profile

  8. BAH. I enjoyed book one, but didn’t love it and now I’m considering skipping out on this one. I think the representation of feminism in this one is going to bother the hell out of me and so it’s pointless for me to read. Thanks for the review!
    Scott Pilgrim recently posted…Blog Tour + Giveaway: The Break-Up ArtistMy Profile

  9. Mair says:

    This is the second book in trilogy correct? Considering this book seems to contradict what was set up in the last book, are you sure this isn’t a set up to be deconstructed in the last book?

    I’ve unfortunately been unable to get hold of ‘A world without Princes’. However Chainani seems to have had involvement in creating LGBT works in the past, while a look at interviews and Q&A’s seem to indicate that the possible reading of Agatha & Sophie’s relationship as romantic was defiantly intentional.

    He also seemed keen to go against gender norms and some of the unappealing cliche’s associated with fairy tales, so it sounds to me like Somali’s trying to construct an argument. Whether he’s doing it well or successfully is another matter.
    But I’m just an optimist who’s yet to actually read the book so I could end up in complete agreement with you while throwing the book against the wall.

  10. Nafiza says:

    I loathed the first one so much that I wanted to stomp on it and usually I don’t feel like stomping on books. I wonder if Chainani considered the subtext of his/her work, did they realize how what they were writing could be construed? I do, all the time. I think you need to be critical and aware of your own work as well as the work of others. But back to this series, it is so problematic in so many ways that were I a more dedicated scholar, I would write a paper on it but I’m afraid all I have to offer are invectives and I’m told those are not acceptable. :\
    Nafiza recently posted…Artist Spotlight: KatsuoMy Profile

  11. Jonathan says:

    Wow. I had the complete opposite reaction to you on this book. Thought it was more progressive, more edgy, and ultimately more feminist than the first. Because it shows a world that doesn’t have gay/straight, hetero/homo labels. Everyone’s reacting as they would in a world without labels. (That’s what I thought the title meant. No labels. No princes.)

    I’d thoroughly recommend people reading this one even more than the first book.

  12. I agree with you. The setup is there for a F/F romance or as you said, a bisexual triangle, and the author blows it. 🙁 And the messages that an HEA has to be 1 girl, 1 boy and that you have to choose between friends, so wrong. I didn’t read the first book but received this for review and it’s been disappointing. So many good ideas but the execution….:(
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  13. Amanda says:

    So I’m reading this now in order to review it and I’m finding myself banging my head REPEATEDLY, for many of the same reasons as you! I’m only about halfway done and I’m just so incredibly frustrated.

    I’m wondering if the heavier tones/implications have been left out because it’s marketed as a middle grade book? The first book felt like middle grade but now it feels like we’re definitely in YA territory. We’re talking about life choices and love and sexuality without really…talking about it?

    I look at Agatha’s relationship with Tedros and her friendship with Sophie and want her to RUN FOR THE HILLS. It’s all so dysfunctional. I get that the plot is set up that she has to choose one or the other (and Sophie is actually so terrible that choosing Tedros over her is sadly understandable; she’s a TERRIBLE friend to Agatha!) but I am not really liking where this is going. I feel like this book WANTS to talk about bigger issues like sexuality that isn’t necessarily heteronormative but it’s not and it’s super frustrating.

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