Rainbow Rowell’s Wayward Son, is out on the 24th September. i.e. TOMORROW. Cue much flailing. Goodreads already has nearly 400 reviews for Wayward Son – before anyone has read it. Let’s just say: there’s a lot of excitement to live up to.
But I have… kinda mixed feelings. And to explain that, we have to look back at Carry On, the first novel fully devoted to Simon Snow.
The Good: Simon & Baz flailing charmingly
The best word I have to describe characters in Rainbow Rowell novels is “warm”. They’re gentle, they’re complex, and they feel real. I don’t read much YA anymore, but I still read her – in fact I ordered Pumpkin Heads yesterday, which I think will bring me up to date on, oh, everything she’s ever written (calm, calm).
As for the romance in Carry On? It’s fabulously angsty and just a touch unconventional: two gay magicians, one of which is a vampire, the other of which is a very messed up chosen-one. More importantly, it makes you remember how it feels to be so totally into someone and no hope of them returning it. A little pining doesn’t begin to describe it – this is a novel where every page pines.
What Carry On does well, it does really well. If you focus on this novel’s heart, its on-point dialogue, which is definitely Rowell’s strongest form, and its quiet subversions of the ‘chosen-one’ fantasy genre, it holds together brilliantly.
The Bad: too much a fanfiction?
Unfortunately, there is a yet. This isn’t the standard dismissal of Carry On as leaning too much on Harry Potter, even though it really, really, does.
It’s about what you miss when you do lean heavily on another work.
Fangirl, the book which brought Simon and his vampire love Baz into the world, was an absolute favourite for me – partly because it talked about fan and geek culture in a way that was new to mainstream YA.
Carry On feels a lot more derivative. By avoiding describing a wizarding school exactly like Hogwarts, Rainbow Rowell seems to simply… not describe it. The fantasy world is pretty far in the background for a lot of the novel, the interesting political analogies in J.K. Rowling’s work are largely ignored, and I can’t help feeling this strays a little (a lot) too close to borrowing, not really from Harry Potter, but from the tropes of Harry/Draco fanfiction.
The hair is different though. I give you that.
Which is great in a way. Shoutout to the mainstream-ing (is that a word?) of fanfiction, and an appreciation of all the interesting writing that happens within it, predominately by young women. But… shouldn’t Rainbow Rowell then have written this as a fanfiction? Or at least a freebie on her website? I realise the economic restraints, but it’s hard to avoid the feeling that ‘inspired by Harry/Draco fanfiction’ here means ‘would have worked better as a Harry/Draco fanfiction’.
The way magic in Carry On relies on idioms and songs is a cool idea, I totally give that, but a lot of fanfictions introduce cool ideas. And if it had been written as pure Harry/Draco, it would have allowed Rowell to use the fantasy world she’s clearly echoing, rather than assuming every reader’s knowledge of it without every really acknowledging that…
*Retreats back from rant*
The waiting-for-awesome-to-come: Wayward Son
If you focus on the fun, flailing-in-pine romance in Carry On, none of that really matters. But the more she writes in this world, the more I want it to be a world – a fully developed one, with all the characters as well characterised as Simon’s awesome best friend Penny.
Carry On is warm, and gentle, and frequently hilarious. But I’m hoping in Wayward Son we’ll see the world and the wizards pushed way past J.K. Rowling’s domain. Because all of Rainbow Rowell’s talents plus an intriguingly explored fantasy world? I’d be the first to sign up.
Carry On: ☺️☺️☺️ / 5
Wayward Son: ?????
Let me know what you think on this! Am I being too harsh? (Hush, there’s no such thing. It’s… positive criticism?).
Either way, have some lovely quotations from Carry On and drawings of the dashing pair as a reward for putting up with my cynicism.
“Just when you think you’re having a scene without Simon, he drops in to remind you that everyone else is a supporting character in his catastrophe.”
“I know Simon and I will always be enemies…aghhhhhh the feels
But I thought maybe we’d get to a point where we didn’t want to be.”
Oh, and this my first proper post on this blog! So give it a browse & let me know what you think 🙂 If you liked this post you can follow Steeped in Fiction – there’s a button on the sidebar 😍