I'd had high hopes for this book and by the end...most were met. But for the first half or more, I found this to be cliche and a bit disappointing. Though that might be partially the fault of the audiobook. I had to give up on it slightly before half way and switch to the book; the narrator's voice made half of them sound like whiny teenagers. Now they may be just that but I will not listen to that if there's anyway to avoid it, so the audiobook had to go.
The country of Enchantasia (ha, ha - eye roll) is ruled by the famous princesses: Ella, Snow, Rose (Sleeping Beauty), and Rapunzel. Though Gottie (Rapunzel's villian...I think) and Alva (Sleeping Beauty's villian) are still loose, everyone is fairly safe and doing well - though the cobblers are in a downturn as Ella gave Glass Slipper creation rights to Fairy Godmothers. The rest of the villains are reformed. The Stepmonster (Flora), Wolfington (best not to mention Grandmother), Madam Cleo (the Sea Witch), and Harlow (Snow White's Evil Queen) live in an enchanted castle where they have turned their lives around and now help young people who are on the path to villainy.
Yep, they run Fairy Tale Reform School!
Their Mission: "To turn wicked delinquents and former villains into future heroes."
Gilly Cobbler hates the royals who've reduced her family into poverty. She helps her family by stealing where she can and if royals are her main targets...well, they can afford to lose a bit. Caught one too many times, she's sent to FTRS where everything is very different from her "cozy" boot. Marble halls, magic mirrors, Pegasus flying lessons, and etiquette classes: Gilly needs to get the heck out while she can, her family needs her! Despite every effort to escape the castle and the so-called "reformed" villains, she makes friends along the way - Jax, Kayla, Maxine, and others - and is drawn into something more than therapy sessions and dance lessons.
Apparently there's still some darkness left in Enchantasia and it might be closer than Gilly thinks!
The characters are the best part of this book. I loved Jax, the boy who attempts again and again to escape...and yet has a magical watch and is slightly suspicious. Kayla, Gilly's fairy roommate, was cute but with a dark past. Maxine, the troll, was probably my favorite. While put down by many people, she's very loyal and quite a nice character. Gilly...ah, Gilly. While I love her strength, her goal to help her family, and her growth, I didn't really like her as a whole for most of the book. This might have a bit to do with the audiobook narration. The book is first person POV and the narrator gave her an almost whiny tone, IMO. But I'm not a big fan of the "noble" thief, particularly as even Gilly herself clearly knows it's not entirely about helping her family. There's a clear selfishness there that she masks with the idea of helping her family. My respect for the character only came when she's faced with the decision to learn nothing from her time at the school or accept the chance given her. That to me was the true heroic moment. Oh, she not suddenly perfect, far from it, but it's a great moment of personal growth and I love it.
And while the book was fun, and interesting...it couldn't escape from the fact it was a fairy tale story. There were cliches, obvious twists (though the final one was a surprise to me), and the whole thing felt a bit rushed about halfway through. Oddly enough, the second half was really my favorite part as the introduction was finally over and things finally got going. I felt that some of the best characters (Madame Cleo, Wolfington) were poorly utilized and were are told far more about the school and people than shown.
Yet at the end, I can't help but like it. And I'm very glad there's a sequel coming out soon as I want to see what's in store for Gilly, her friends, and the school in the future. While clearly more for middle school readers than YA or adult readers, it's a fun and quick book that works despite its flaws.