Wayward Son – review

Author: Rainbow Rowell
Series: Simon Snow (Book #2)
Publication date: September 24, 2019
Genre: YA fantasy, road trip
My rating: 2.5/5 stars

I’m having such a hard time assembling my thoughts on this book, but really, the characters did not deserve the mess that was this unimpressive sequel. Simon deserved better. Baz deserved better (though Baz deserves the whole dang world, if we’re being honest, and nothing will every be too good for his precious, anguished soul). Penny deserved better. Heck, even Agatha deserved better, and I don’t even like her that much. 

I think the heart of my complaint is rooted in my experience reading this book, which was roughly as follows:

Me: “Aw, what a sad start, but this could be fun.”

Me, an hour or so later: “Okay, now this is just getting dumb.”

Me, the very next page: “OH WAIT BAZ AND SIMON ARE TALKING ABOUT FEELINGS, GOTTA STICK AROUND FOR THIS.”

Me, half a page later, my heart still soaring: “Wait, that was it? Well, guess I need to keep going now. Maybe there will be more.”

Me, by 2/3 of the way through the book: “Why am I still reading? This is just straight-up not good. But I guess I want to see how it ends…”

Me, at the end of the epilogue: “Wow, that was a terrible ending.”

Now, before I start ranting, quick idea of the plot (warning, contains spoilers for Carry On, but none for this book):

In the aftermath of his defeat of the Humdrum and loss of his magic, Simon Snow has fallen into a deep depression. Baz is in agony watching the love of his life in such pain. Agatha has moved to California, leaving her wand behind and trying to start a normal, magic-free life. And Penny just wants to fix everything but doesn’t know how. When Agatha stops answering her messages, Penny proposes that she and the boys head to America for a road trip to visit and/or save their friend. And so they do. But magic is a little different in America, and not always in a good way. Also, Agatha may or may not have been adopted/kidnapped by some sort of cult. No big deal, though, right?

I do need to start by reinforcing that I loved Carry On. I have said, more than once, that it is way more fun and emotional than a riff on Drarry fanfic has any right to be. So the chance to see more of those characters, with their sarcasm and their romances and their weird magic system (rooted in linguistics, which I love), sounded amazing. And showing a mage/superhero who is actually suffering from real mental health issues after a traumatic war experience? That is such a great and important thing to show! To an extent, this book did include lots of the things I loved about its precursor. For example:

Baz and Simon still having moments that are both adorable and heartbreaking. Really, those held this book together for me and were what kept me going. I mean, look at this line from Baz:

“Over the ocean, under the sun. Simon Snow, it hurts to look at you when you’re this happy. And it hurts to look at you when you’re depressed. There’s no safe time for me to see you, nothing about you that doesn’t tear my heart from my chest and leave it breakable outside my body.”

How can you not love it when characters say things like this??? It’s beautiful and vulnerable and sweet and just…AAAHHHHH. 

– Some of the signature snark and humor still managed to come through. Baz’s viewpoint especially excelled on this front, though Simon also did a pretty good job with it. The girls, not so much, but we’re talking positives right now, right?

– The problems with magic and mages and magickal creatures in America were a very interesting twist on what was established in the first book. A society where mages don’t really seek out other mages, areas of low population that create “Quiet Zones” where magic doesn’t work, and lots of sketchy real magic in Las Vegas? Cool stuff.

Shepard, a new character. He’s a Normal, fascinated by all things magickal, and he somehow ends up caught in the whirlwind adventures of our original characters. Once he fully enters the story, he even becomes a POV character, and after Baz, I think his is the most distinctive voice/viewpoint.

A really, really cute/fun scene at a Renaissance Fair (which was fairly early in the story). 

– A chapter (also very early on) that started with Baz making a massive list of everything he hates. Very funny, and very effective at propelling the narrative forward in a snappy way—you know, like how Buzzfeed lists are easier to read than articles.

– The book as a whole was a fast, easy read.

Here’s the problem: those are literally ALL the good things.The rest of the book was, to be frank, a disaster. The plot was thin. Sometimes, quest stories are great, where each step along the road feels important, or is at least entertaining. But in this story, from the Renaissance Fair moment I mentioned up until the characters reach Las Vegas near the end, there was very little that was actually memorable. A weird scene went on with Penny and her long-distance boyfriend, Micah. There were some run-ins with weird hybrid magickal creatures that weren’t explained very well. And some vampire stuff, which took a toll on Baz for obvious reasons. But…meh. 

The pacing wasn’t good, and there were so many random things that felt like they were thrown in just so that the story wouldn’t be so short and so its threadbare nature wouldn’t be exposed. There are only so many fluffy moments you can throw in before they become annoying rather than endearing. And much as I like stories with multiple POV characters, I sometimes questioned whether they were all necessary in this book. Baz and Simon, I get. Agatha’s side, though I didn’t really like reading her parts, was essential from a narrative perspective, because she wasn’t really in touch with the others but important things were happening to her. But Penny’s viewpoint didn’t really contribute much to the story, and as much as I liked Shepard’s I wasn’t entirely sure how much of his was essential either. I don’t like when authors muddy the waters just for the sake of throwing extra things in.

And so many other problems! There were so many questions introduced, and so few of them answered. Like, is Simon actually part-dragon now? Will he and Baz patch things up? How the heck does Agatha afford her lifestyle when she is literally working as a barista? Will everyone be able to form their own identities, independent of Simon Snow? To be determined, I guess, because guess what? You know how the first book was intended to be a standalone? Well, I guess Rainbow Rowell has realized what a cash cow this series is, because she ended this one with the cheesiest cliffhanger I’ve ever read, and then confirmed on Twitter shortly thereafter that she is writing a third Simon Snow book. Because I am a sucker for those few precious moments of goodness in a sea of suckiness, I’ll probably still end up reading it, but still.

At one point in the story, Penny says, “Baz and Simon are sufficiently distracting, in nearly every scenario.” I wish this book was one of those scenarios, but alas, the good points were not enough to outweigh my regret at having wasted time on this one.