I have been looking forward to Carry On’s sequel Wayward Son for almost a year.
I preordered the book in February, desperate to ensure that I got my copy ASAP.
I followed every single update for moooooonths leading up to the release.
My copy arrived yesterday afternoon. I drew a bath, lit my Scorpio candle, and vowed to finish the 350-page book by the time I went to bed.
By page 160, I realized I wasn’t enjoying myself.
I had to MAKE myself pay attention to my favorite characters’ exploits.
I kept getting bored and finding reasons to scroll through Twitter and text my friends.
I made it only a few more pages before I gave up for good.
Earlier this month, I DNFed another Rainbow Rowell novel.
As it was one of her earlier books, I figured it was a fluke.
Unfortunately, Wayward Son has many of the same problems.
Why doesn’t Wayward Son work? I made a list.
(IMPORTANT: SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS AHEAD FOR BOTH CARRY ON AND WAYWARD SON. The book only came out 2 days ago, so avoid reading this post until you can finish or DNF Wayward Son.)
(Additional SPOILERS for The Raven Cycle and BBC’s The Musketeers.)
(CW: trauma, depression)
Consequences: What are those? (Part One)
Simon Snow’s sacrifice at the end of Carry On upended the magickal world as the characters knew it.
Simon fell for a vampire, killed his father figure, and lost his magic.
The ending of Carry On, while happy in some ways, felt very much like a “Now what?” after a huge paradigm shift.
The characters allude to this shift in Wayward Son, commenting on chaos in the magickal world.
Wayward Son initially intrigued me because it promised to deal with what came after the happily ever after.
Instead, Wayward Son takes the characters to America, away from the chaos of the UK, to deal with a completely new magick system and magickal culture.
Rather than grapple with the consequences of Simon’s actions in Carry On, our trio goes on the world’s most boring road trip.
Wish I could have seen how the UK is doing instead of exploring a new, less-interesting landscape.
(To that end: stop telling me how boring Nebraska is if you’re going to set all your books in Nebraska. No one is having a good time.)
A cliffhanger ending promises “trouble at Watford,” but, at this point, I don’t even care.
Wacky hijinks trump logic
I KNOW THE CHARACTERS ARE TEENAGERS, OKAY??
THEIR FRONTAL CORTEXES ARE STILL FORMING. THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW THINGS WORK.
Still…DO YOU MEAN TO TELL ME THAT PENNY SERIOUSLY DIDN’T KNOW HOW FAR CHICAGO IS FROM SAN DIEGO?
WHEN SHE’S BEEN TO THE STATES BEFORE????
She and the boys somehow understand NOTHING about American culture or its magickal laws. (Which…fair.)
As I said, though, PENELOPE HAS VISITED THE STATES BEFORE.
Who is this ignorant witch who can’t fathom how America works (EVEN THOUGH SHE’S BEEN BEFORE??)
This isn’t the character I met in Carry On.
Most of the book’s hijinks push the boundaries of realism to get the plot going.
It’s painful to witness.
The kids don’t know how cars work! They think Chicago and San Diego are right next door! Yuk yuk yuk! What a zany adventure!
I DESPISE fish-out-of-water stories because they focus more on talking about the world and making jokes (“WHAT A LARGE SLICE OF CHEESECAKE.”) than THE ACTUAL PLOT.
Maybe the novelty of Brits in the States is lost on me because I LIVE in the States.
I still didn’t care for the American magickal world.
Yes, good for you for bringing magick to America.
I was more interested in the characters than the setting, but, since you don’t know what to do with them, I suppose this is a good enough substitute.
….I just realized something.
If Carry On is Harry Potter, Wayward Son is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
NO WONDER I HATE IT.
The Great Personality Swap of 2019
In 2016, the BBC ruined my life.
The year before, it had produced a near-perfect season The Musketeers, my favorite TV show at the time.
I LOVED The Musketeers’ second season.
Gone were the wacky mysteries of season 1. Gone was Peter Capaldi’s affable menace. Each episode upped the stakes until I couldn’t take it anymore.
The series ended on a bittersweet cliffhanger – Aramis joined the priesthood and his friends rode off to collect him after France went to war with Spain.
I could not wait for their season 3 adventures.
I came to regret this anticipation.
By the season 3 premiere, my beloved Musketeers had completely swapped personalities: Porthos became broody and rude, D’Artagnan became the level-headed team leader, Athos became intuitive and emotional, and Aramis was suddenly oblivious to all the emotional harm he’d caused.
I GET that war changes people, but there’s trauma-based personality changes and then there’s bad writing.
Wayward Son faces the exact same problem with its three main characters.
Baz is suddenly the responsible Team Mom while Penny turns into an impulsive amateur.
Simon becomes…whoever the plot needs him to be.
Their whole dynamic felt off.
I’d come back because I wanted to spend more time with Baz, Penny, and Simon.
Reading Wayward Son, I felt like I’d never met these characters before.
If I was reading about strangers, how did this book qualify as a sequel?
A note about characters: if your characters aren’t compelling enough, you will have to compensate with an interesting plot…OR do what Rainbow Rowell did and keep throwing in random events to maintain the reader’s interests.
Other readers had a lot to say about the pacing and worldbuilding in Carry On, which…I’ll give them that.
It’s not…the best.
I will say that I couldn’t put Carry On down.
The bulk of Carry On concerns Simon’s attempts to defeat the Insiduous Humdrum (primary plot) and the renegotiation of his relationship with his archnemesis/roommate Baz (secondary plot.)
That book BUILDS.
By the time I got to the climax, I was VERY invested in the characters’ happy endings.
Though the pacing is a little wonky, Carry On works because interesting characters act and react in a believable universe in the service of a broader goal.
The difference between Carry On and Wayward Son reminds me of the difference between Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra: while ATLA has the same villain and objective throughout the series, TLOK is much more episodic.
Which is to say that the plot of Wayward Son is very disjointed and unfocused.
The book begins with a depressed Simon. Penelope vows to cure him with a trip to America…to visit Agatha…who doesn’t want to see them.
Now it’s a road trip novel!
Now Penny is being dumped by her boyfriend!
Now they’re driving 31 hours to San Diego!
Now Baz is eating cats!
Now they’re fighting vampires at a Ren Faire!
Now they’re meeting a Normal who knows about magic!
Now they’re being attacked by wereskunks!
Now Agatha is joining a cult and needs rescuing!
Oh, and something about trauma, but LET’S NOT FOCUS ON THAT RIGHT NOW.
This book didn’t feel ready to be a book yet.
I didn’t need a new environment – I wanted to explore the existing world more deeply.
But sure, give me Nebraskan magickal beings because you don’t know what to do with the main characters and are relying on novelty to keep me invested.
A bunch of my friends despised Agatha after reading Carry On. They would’ve GLADLY seen her written out of the story.
I didn’t care for Agatha much either, but I saw the point of including her and found her much more sympathetic during my second read-through.
I liked the inclusion of a character who didn’t want to be part of a grand magickal adventure.
So WHY was she brought back for the sequel?
We ALREADY KNOW she doesn’t want to be here.
Did we REALLY need to know more of her story?
When I heard about a Carry On sequel, I assumed Agatha wouldn’t be part of it, as she was busy living a Normal life.
NEVER MIND, SHE’S BACK.
She spends almost the entire novel separated from the other characters, unable to interact with them.
If her relationships with the other characters aren’t the focus, why bring her back at all?
Wait…was she just an excuse to bring the characters to the States?
You mean, after establishing that Agatha is more than just a Macguffin, she returns in the sequel…as a Macguffin?
Cool, cool, I love consistency, cool.
Simon and Baz’s regression
Carry On ends with Simon and Baz as a newly-in-love couple.
Simon and Penny get an apartment together and Baz promises to visit often.
By the start of Wayward Son, Simon’s experiences in Carry On have left him unable to get off his couch, much less attend classes or pay attention to his boyfriend.
He plans on breaking up with Baz because he doesn’t feel worthy of love.
This is where we are by page 7.
The book makes a big point about a relationship needing two people willing to travel every step as a team.
I WISH I COULD HAVE SEEN BAZ AND SIMON’S JOURNEY.
I don’t know how they got here.
I don’t know how they kept a relationship going FOR A YEAR with Simon in a paralyzing depression.
It’s to the point that the boys don’t touch or kiss or even spend that much time together anymore.
THIS ISN’T A RELATIONSHIP.
Later on, after a disastrous Ren Faire in the States, Simon’s depression…goes away? He becomes a sexual, demonstrative boyfriend again.
(Road trips don’t cure depression. Road trips don’t cure depression. Road trips don’t c-)
And, listen, I KNOW they are teenagers trying to figure things out.
I KNOW people are rarely equipped to handle with a partner’s mental illness, especially at such a young age.
But, from what I read, the boys don’t talk about their issues…ever.
The plot point I was actually invested in – i.e., Simon and Baz’s relationship – was swept aside in favor of vampires.
In the last few pages, when the boys FINALLY discuss their relationship, they focus on Baz’s vampirism instead of tackling the REAL issue.
And Baz keeps hoping Simon will understand how much he loves him…without saying anything.
I just…didn’t we DO this already? In Carry On? I don’t like it!
Our trio meets Shepard, a Normal person obsessed with magick.
I can’t figure out why he’s in the book.
I guess he exists to give the characters information on the American magickal community.
His motivation is certainly the clearest of the many characters included.
That doesn’t make him interesting.
Shepard wants to know about magic because it’s…cool?
Why does he need a POV chapter?
He reminds me a bit of Henry Cheng from The Raven Cycle; instead of deepening the relationships between the existing characters, the narrative brings in Shepard for reasons I can’t fathom.
I would enjoy reading about Shepard in a different book (perhaps his own.)
Here, he distracts from the story.
PERHAPS THAT WAS THE POINT.
“Please focus on this new character and not on the fact that the plot isn’t going anywhere.”
It didn’t work, but nice try!
Consequences: What ARE those? (Part Two)
At the end of Carry On, though Simon loses his magic, the wings and tail he spelled for himself remain.
The final pages see him dealing with his new anatomy. He conceals these parts of himself in public, knowing how much they would freak people out.
Baz doesn’t seem to mind them, a relief for Simon.
Baz accepts these new body parts as a part of Simon that can’t be fixed.
I thought Simon’s wings and tail couldn’t be removed; I remembered some people trying, but none succeeding.
At the beginning of Wayward Son, Simon still has his wings and tail. Because he dislikes concealing them, he rarely goes outside.
These appendages promised to cause problems during the road trip in America.
And they did…except when they didn’t.
In the first few chapters, Penny develops a spell that makes Simon’s wings temporarily disappear.
The spell doesn’t just make the wings invisible – it makes them DISAPPEAR.
No more discomfort for Simon!
Later on, Simon doesn’t seem too bothered by his appendages, even choosing to fly around like this is something he does all the time.
In the final chapters, Simon reveals that Agatha’s father can remove Simon’s wings and tail any time he wants.
I interpreted the wings and tail as a physical representation of Simon’s trauma.
It was important to me that the wings and tail couldn’t be spelled away permanently, as they were external proof Simon had been changed by his experiences in the last book.
The end of Carry On sees Simon, his boyfriend, and all of his friends learning to interact with a new version of Simon.
Wayward Son stops treating the wings and tail as things to navigate…then implies that they can be fixed whenever Simon wants.
If the wings and tail are TRULY a representation of trauma, as I assumed, I really don’t like what this book is saying about survivors.
After this latest disappointment, I’m done with Rainbow Rowell.
I don’t love her writing style, I only like two (eh, one-and-a-half) of her books, and I don’t want to be further disillusioned with a book I once loved.
Looking at current reviews, I appear to be alone in my feelings.
If you felt let down by this book – OR, if you loved this book and want to defend it – PLEASE COMMENT.
My discontent is deep.