Simon Snow by Rainbow Rowell series

I love every single word ever written by Rainbow Rowell (for evidence see my reviews of every single one of her books #rainbowrowell) I have been waiting patiently for the sequel to her Young Adult fantasy fiction novel, Carry On, and Wayward Son is finally here! NOTE: The review below has definite spoilers and Carry On is too wonderful to miss…if you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and grab a copy. (For an added bonus, the review I wrote for Carry On is below.)

Last year at Watford, the magical boarding school that brought together Basilton Grimm-Pitch, Penelope Bunce, and the famous Simon Snow, this unlikely trio was forced together to fight off a dark entity that threatened the entire world of magic.

Now living in London, the stars of Carry On — brilliant magician Penny, part-Vampire-part mage Baz, and former “chosen one” Simon — are recovering from their years-long battle to save the magical world. The battle is won, but Simon was forced to sacrifice his magic in order to do so and his powerlessness and mangled looks have left him bereft. Forced into hiding because a spell gone wrong left him with wings and tail, Simon is depressed and filled with rage that the one amazing thing about himself, his towering magical might, is gone. To make things worse, he is not a regular Normal who can just go about his life; his transfigured state means he must constantly hide.

Simon is not the only one struggling. Penny, once so focused on the “save the world” mission and used to having all of the answers and knowledge of all of the necessary spells, is out of her depths with Simon’s physical and mental crises. Baz is so ready to pursue a normal life with his boyfriend Simon, all the danger and battles all behind them. Yet the normal university days he longs for are out of reach, instead, he tries with little luck to build a relationship with irrational, angry Simon.

While Penny and Baz love Simon deeply, they are growing worried that his depression will make him do something drastic. The trio plans a road trip across America and sets out to visit friends, each of them hoping that the change of scenery will do them all some good.

Instead of a movie-worthy journey, the three of them seemed destined to cause problems on a catastrophic scale. Penny and Baz, usually so skilled at magic, find that being in America has lessened the effectiveness of their powers; and the vastness of the country and its unique subcultures are a mystery to the Brits.

The three quickly run out of money, get lost, receive a less-than-warm welcome from a friend. Those worries seem minor though, and the adventure seems to have pulled Simon out of his funk. However, things turn dark quickly as their magic seems to attract problems. They battle a group of vampires, get lost on lands run by outlaw magical creatures, and end up kidnapped…among other things.

The three are stunned by how dangerous their trip is shaping up to be. America is as lawless and wild for magical beings as its history and reputation would suggest and there is no government to keep things in balance. In order to survive, they team up with a Normal who has an encyclopedic knowledge of American magical creatures and resources that they need to survive.

Normally so surefooted, magical prodigies who could handle anything, the differences between American and the UK is staggering. Having magic fail them leaves the group feeling outrageously vulnerable. Penny, in particular, seems stunned by having so much she does not know and understand.

Further complicating things is the romantic tension between Simon and Baz, so in love with each other but so unsure how to build a life together when there is much standing in their way. Rowell captures beautifully the awkward attempts the two young men make as they try to overcome the misunderstandings that keep them from connecting.

Rowell’s signature wit, sparkling dialogue, and good humor propel the story forward. The new stories and characters keep the story fresh and the setting makes for unexpected challenges and thrills for the series’ stars. While Wayward Son does not quite capture the magic of Carry On, it is a fun addition to the series.

WOW! I absolutely loved this book! I gobbled it up, I inhaled it, I devoured it! In fact, if there were not two wonderful people in my life dying to get their hands on my copy of the book, I would have finished the last page and immediately restarted it. Rowell has truly accomplished something magical (no pun intended) with this book…she has made a fantasy story that is quality parts Young Adult romance and whimsical fairy tale. If Fangirl and Harry Potter had a love child, it would be Carry On — it is that good. While Rowell’s Fangirl is not a prequel to this book, the world of Watford was born within the pages of Fangirl and it really is a worthy place to start this journey.

I hardly know where to start in reviewing this novel. It is a fantasy story set in a magical school in England for teenage magicians learning to use their magic. There are posh uniforms, spells to learn, enemies to thwart, and evil plots to unveil. Even if it sounds like it poor version of Harry Potter, it totally works. The world Rowell creates is just different enough that while you are reading about Watford School, you feel like you are reading about Hogwart's hipper counterpart, not its replica. In a way, the story is freer than HP, because the characters do not feel compelled to be so proper, nor their relationships so chaste, and the result is a funny, sexy, and thrilling book…one that gives us spells and epic magical battles but with a much more teen twist (meaning cell phones, drinking, and sex.)

Carry On is presumably book eight in a non-existent series. However, Rowell writes the story in such a way that you learn the entire backstory, the author filling in the blanks along the way so that you feel as if the other six books do exist. The effect is miraculous: readers do not feel cheated, instead of reading Carry On gives you the sensation that you have read seven wonderful books, not just one. (More bang for your buck!) As you read, you are pulled into this story and you are given a glimpse of all the stories that came before it.

Carry On, at its heart, is a love story. Rowell is doing something profound with this book. In the process of telling us a really good fantasy tale, she is also telling us a love story about two young men and defiantly refusing to call it a “gay love story.” It simply is a love story — no qualifiers needed. And what a fantastic love story it is: filled with all the angst and drama and power of any young adult love story but infused with a real sense of tension. As we all know, while most heterosexual relationships are given cultural permission to exist, it is often the case the those for gay men and women are deemed completely taboo. Thankfully that is starting to change, and books like Rowell’s are a reflection of those (slow) changes. She is writing a love story about two men and in no way giving readers the impression that it is off-limits or unallowable. All the characters in the book accept that being gay is just part of their lives or their loved ones. Rowell makes sure that we all know she believes who you love should never matter — only how you treat them.

Cover Carry On
book 1
9.16 / 10
Cover Wayward Son
book 2
8.03 / 10