I've been soooooo impatient for this book to come out. And now it's here and I've read it and I have Thoughts.
I decided I'm actually going to do two versions of this, a spoiler-free one I'll post tonight and a much longer, in-depth, very very spoiler-filled exploration I'll probably be working on for at least a few more days. Because, really. I have a LOT to say and I want to say it all and it's probably more than most people want to read.
Anyway, let's dive in!
It's a quick and enjoyable read, maybe lacking a bit of substance. If Carry On read like a fanfic, this one is even more so – a fanfic of a fanfic.
The plot is a little scattered and rushed, the characters and relationships don't really get the amount of focus and resolution I'd like, and overall I'm left feeling a bit unfinished.
If you're expecting a complete story with a typical narrative shape, this will likely leave you feeling a bit lost. But I don't think that's necessarily an actual downside to this book. It's not a tidy hero story to be wrapped up and moved on from – they already did that. This book starts on an ending and ends on a beginning, and in-between is kind of just an endearing mess (like Simon and Baz, really).
That's one of those neat things fanfiction allows writers – a chance to treat characters more like living people, give them lives that don't have neat chapter endings, let them be lost and just live their lives once in awhile. I like that Rowell feels comfortable bringing that fanfiction energy to these books, it's nice to just spend some time with characters I love without feeling like we're on a train rushing towards a particular destination.
I was hoping for more of an examination of Simon's feelings and identity. Intentional or not, Carry On fell into the trap of having a seemingly bisexual character without ever using the word and therefore contributes to bisexual erasure. And that wasn't fixed here, either by having Simon identify that way or having any other character fill the gap.
Not every story has to have every identity represented, obviously. I really don't think it's intentional and I think it makes sense for Simon not to have it figured out. And it's not like he's really got time to be worried about that here, and it's fine for someone to never decide on a label. It's just troubling how often it happens when the character dates both men and women, and it does get a little frustrating to never see yourself represented.
I get why that's a deal-breaker for some, though I'll also admit it had to be pointed out to me even though I'm panromantic. It's just not a huge part of my identity and not something that I really tend to look for in my fiction, so I guess I also kind of relate to Simon and his apparent lack of interest in exploring it further when he's got other things on his mind. That is also a type of representation and it's important. I just hold out hope that there will be more of these characters at some point, more chances to address it or for other identities and experiences to be represented.
Also I'll be on the lookout now for similar universes with much more of a queer slant. Especially by queer authors and for queer audiences. Recommendations totally welcome.
Alternately, let's all just invent our own queer magical universes. That might be a good next creative project for me. Hmmm.
Overall rating 4.5/5