Book Review

Any Way the Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell

Any Way the Wind Blows is the conclusion of Rainbow Rowell’s amazing Simon Snow Trilogy. The story began as part of another book, Fangirl. Fangirl was a contemporary novel in which the main character wrote fan fiction about a franchise similar to the Harry Potter franchise, with courageous students at a magical school. Carry On gave us a different version of this same fanfic that stood on its own as a lovely and moving deconstruction of Chosen One narratives, and included a m/m romance.Wayward Son tackled the fate of this group of friends after their mission was accomplished, and was set in the United States.

In this final book, Any Way the Wind Blows, Simon, Baz, Penelope, Agatha, and a new American character from book two, Shepard, are back in England and trying to find stable footing in a world that always seems to be in crisis. There are lovable characters, squee-worthy queer romances, and smart and funny explorations of magical society.

This book really needs to be read after reading the other two books. Not only that, but this review will probably be very confusing to those who haven’t read the first two books. Don’t worry, you’ll love them. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

Because this is the third of a trilogy, we can’t discuss one without the first two. So spoilers. NO KIDDING. THIS ENTIRE REVIEW IS A SPOILER FOR CARRY ON AND FOR WAYWARD SON.

Show Spoiler

Shana: Let’s recap what’s already happened. In Carry On, Simon is a magical prodigy who’s brought to the Watford school by his mentor, the headmaster. He befriends and goes on adventures with bookish badass Penelope, and his talented girlfriend Agatha, often coming up against Simon’s nemesis and mysterious roommate, Baz.

By the end of the book, Simon has saved the world and lost his magic powers; Simon and Baz have realized that their snarky banter was covering for lovey dovey feelings. In Wayward Son, Penelope and Baz are dealing with a despondent Simon. It’s time for an epic vampire-killing road trip across the US to visit Agatha, who’s decamped to California.

By the end of the book, the team has started healing from the events of Carry On, and are heading back to the UK to figure out the rest of their lives.

Whew, that was a lot.

Any Way the Wind Blows opens with the gang still reeling from their American adventures and in many ways picking back up the threads of their lives from Carry On. They’ve just arrived in London and are immediately pulled apart to deal with various minor inconveniences, like Simon having dragon wings, which later snowball into bigger problems. Ever helpful Penelope is trying to aid Shephard in reversing a demon curse. Baz’s magical elite parents are having marital problems, and while he’s distracted by changing his siblings’ diapers, his boyfriend Simon decides to move into his own flat, and embrace his new life as a Normal, non-magical, person. And Agatha is depressed so her parents force her to work at her Dad’s magical surgery. Thankfully she’s not nearly as melancholy as Simon was in Wayward Son, because that nearly killed me to read.

Because we’re back in London, and the characters are dealing with unresolved baggage from Carry On, this felt like a continuation of that story. It reminded me of everything I loved about the first book, and smoothed over my ruffled feathers from my struggle with book two. I loved how the first two books took advantage of my Harry Potter-tinged assumptions, giving me twist after twist. Wayward Son’s ‘twist” was showing us how emotionally devastating it is to save the world at your own expense, which was sometimes hard for me to enjoy. This third book had a lighter touch in delving into depression, and kept me laughing. Any Way the Wind Blows also does a better job of weaving in reminders from the earlier books, so I didn’t feel like I needed to reread the rest of the trilogy to understand what was going on.

Did you love catching up with our favorite band of magicians?

Carrie: Of course I did – although I have to admit that my favorite character by far is the non-magical but constantly curious Shepard! These books work for me entirely on the strength of the characters. I find myself caring about them so much that I don’t care what’s actually happening. I appreciate how Wayward Son and this book have addressed trauma and made it clear that the characters can’t just hug it out and yell, “We won!” For them, trauma recovery is a lifelong thing. I thought Simon’s trauma as it plays out in his relationship was especially realistic, and that Shepard’s efforts to point out all the ‘Normal’ non-magical, simple ways of doing things was both hilarious and a great way to indicate what insular lives our characters have led.

I felt that the plot lines in this book were very scattered and each deserved their own book so none of them were resolved entirely to my satisfaction. I think part of the point of the “happy for now” ending is maybe that life just keeps going and is not wrapped up with a tidy bow. I want that tidy ending in fiction. I want all the loose ends tied up. But in life there are always loose ends floating around, and I think the loose ends and unanswered questions here (Will Simon get rid of his wings? What will Penelope do in Nebraska? What does it mean for Simon to be part of a family? Will Baz ever start drinking non-fatal amounts of human blood?) are left that way to further deconstruct the tidy ending Chosen One stories. Even though I liked the theory of using an uncertain but optimistic future to indicate that life just keeps happening, in practice I still wanted a more definitive conclusion.

All Agatha ever wanted was to get the the fuck away from Watford school. Shana, What did you think of her fate? I felt like it was a happy for now, but it didn’t seem at all like Agatha.

Shana: I liked that in this book, Agatha’s storyline was the most straightforward: She finds her calling after spending most of time at Watford, plays with flying goats, and irreverently pokes fun at her damsel in distress role in earlier books. Agatha also gets a romance with another woman. Because the book had giant neon signposts along the way that screamed FORESHADOWING HERE, I had time to get used to the idea of Agatha reconnecting with Watford. Maybe her ending didn’t make perfect sense, but Agatha’s story was a soothing chaser to the uncertainty of her friends’ lives.

Now, Simon and Baz’s journey was a wild ride. First, watching them learn to have a functioning relationship was simply adorable. I reveled in the abundance of Simon and Baz being cute. There is so much cuddling, and kissing, and actual communication about their fucking feelings. Finally! I wanted to fistbump them for finding some emotional intelligence. I think if I hadn’t waited two books for this, it would be kind of boring, honestly. Like that couple who keeps kissing on the bus seat next to you, when you’re just trying to get on with your commute. But if you love these characters, and I do, know that this book pays back your shipping with interest.

In one of several plots in this story, Simon and Baz get tangled up in a mystery involving Smith, one of the many people claiming to be the prophesied Chosen One, here to save the magical world. Smith has the ability to “cure” mages with weak magic, so magicless Simon goes undercover to try to suss out if he’s the real deal. There were so many twists and turns to this story, I couldn’t stop reading it. I loved all the ways Simon and Baz’s past history was woven into the situation with Smith. They got some closure, and so did I.

Carrie:  I appreciated how the plot about Smith let us see different responses to identity crisis. If your whole life revolves around magic and the magic is taken away, who are you? If you have enough magic to be part of the magic world but not enough to be very powerful or effective, how do you feel that you are ‘enough’ as a person, that your life has value? What if you never had it all, and now you do? I think most of us feel ‘less than enough’ and it was interesting, and often heartbreaking and/or inspiring, to see people struggle through different versions of this feeling.

Shana: Yes, almost all of the romantic or familial relationships in the book involved a magical power imbalance. It was fascinating. What do you do when your partner, or parent, has a talent that you lack? A status that’s closed to you? How do you learn to live with it, and carve your own path? That’s part of the HFN, right? Because those feelings of inadequacy aren’t completely resolved in this book, for Simon, or for the people drawn to Smith’s promises. Their endings are fulfilling, but imperfect. It made me feel like these were living, breathing people who would continue to grow off the page. It also felt realistic, since who figures out everything about your whole life over a few weeks in your twenties?

Carrie: The first book in the trilogy, Carry On, was published in 2015. Since then the world and our culture have gone through massive changes, right along with our characters. The Simon and Baz pairing and it’s acceptance from other characters feels so important to me. Shana, did you have any thought about how the book expresses sexual fluidity? Neither Simon nor Agatha put on a label on their sexuality and I couldn’t decide if that was a way to illustrate the spectrum and fluidity of sexuality or if it was a cop-out. This is especially important in the case of Simon, who is specifically uncomfortable with thinking of himself as Gay or Bi because that adds to his confusion about his early relationship with Agatha, which is all tied up in his other confusion about relationships and identity as a Chosen One who wasn’t.

Shana: Is Simon’s discomfort with labels realistic, interesting, and in line with many people’s lived experiences? Yes.

Was it also a cop-out? You betcha. I was particularly annoyed because Baz literally says that if you’re a man who is romantically interested in another man, there are only two identities available to you: Bi, or Gay. Au contraire, sweet sheltered summer child. I was waiting for Simon to correct him, but it never happens. I liked the idea of Simon simply being sexually fluid, but Simon himself seemed deeply uncomfortable with the idea, which made me feel like his resistance to labels was less a celebration of sexual fluidity, and more internalized homophobia.

This was in line with the other theme in their relationship, coming out and dealing with the potential disapproval of others. I had honestly forgotten how homophobic Baz’s parents were, and it was jarring, even though we barely see it on the page. Instead, Baz just thinks about conversations with them. I had blocked out how isolated Baz felt, and it was sad reading that he never believed anyone else would love him.

Simon and Baz slowly get comfortable living in an openly queer relationship over the course of the book. They hold hands in public more easily—and did I squee about that? Yes, I did—but they never get to the point of telling acquaintances that they’re boyfriends, and we never see them out in front of family. Maybe I’m spoiled by reading so many queer YA novels, but I was surprised by how tentative and scared these two were initially. It made their HFN feel fragile, even if they kept declaring their love and commitment to one another. But ultimately I trusted that, just like the other loose ends, Simon and Baz will figure it out over time.

Carrie: I agree with your thoughts regarding Simon’s hesitancy to adopt a label so much. It made sense given all of his other identity challenges and was also a frustrating cop-out. And yes, when they held hands in public, OMG, I was ded.

Shana: I also just have to say that the representation of race in this book was surprisingly strong. I feel like it’s gotten better over the course of the series. For example, I really appreciated that characters noticed and named when people were White, instead of treating that like an invisible default. And I adored the banter between Penelope and Shepherd, both characters of color.

Which reminds me, can we talk about how Shephard, a person with no magic ability, was my favorite character in a book about mages? I didn’t think I could love anyone more than smart, focused Penelope, but I might love Shephard even more. Shhh, don’t tell her. He’s the fish out of water in this story, and I adored his strange fascination with British sandwiches, his dangerous ability to charm his way into relationships with magical creatures…including getting accidentally cursed by a demon. Shephard’s curiosity about the magical world frequently gets him into trouble, but like you said earlier, in some ways he’s the best problem solver in the book. Still his scenes made me gasp with laughter, especially the way he and Penelope teased one another.

Carrie: If you took the best qualities of the science geek archetype, and the best qualities of the poet/theater geek/artist archetype, and you added them together, you would get kind, curious, impulsive, accepting, joyful Shepard. He reminds me to find delight in the ordinary and not to hesitate when reaching for the extraordinary – although, given his litany of life complications maybe hesitate a LITTLE bit. I think it helps that he is the most emotionally mature of the group, which makes it all the more relatable when we find out how scared he is to confide certain details to Penelope.

Shana: Like Wayward Son, this book takes a while to ramp up the action. But the ramp is filled with Simon and Baz’s relationship drama, Penelope getting an adventure that has nothing to do with Simon, and Agatha having a mirror held up to her flaws, all of which I was happy to sink into for many many pages.

Carrie: How should we grade this? Individually, I would give the first book in this trilogy an A and the other two, including this one, a B+. BUT when I take the trilogy as a whole, as intended, it’s a big old A++++ for me. I love these characters and this series will be a balm for anyone who needs a magical modern day fantasy grounded in the mundane world, that is full of inclusion in terms of race, class, sexual orientation, and magical ability. What do you think, Shana?

Shana: There are many “magical school” series, but this is one of my favorites and deserves a squee for its smart storytelling, sweet romance, and creative deconstruction of Chosen One tropes. I would give this installment an A- for its intensely lovable characters that kept me laughing, and the multiple HFNs that left me feeling hopeful. This is a fantastic conclusion to the series.

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Any Way the Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell

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  1. 1
    Mandy says:

    Oh, this review made me so happy! I am such a fan of the Simon Snow books, and I have been rereading them ever since I finished Any Way the Wind Blows. It’s such a smart, cozy, and warm series, while also still having a lot of angst and adventure. Simon and Baz forever!

  2. 2
    Heather M says:

    This was maybe more of a personal interpretation than anything else, so I don’t know if it counts as spoilers, but re: Simon’s sexuality, to me it very much read demisexual, or somewhere along the ace spectrum. He’d had sex in his heterosexual relationship because it was just something you do, without seeming to experience any real pleasure or even desire for it, and then suddenly he was confronted with big, messy feelings, and internalized homophobia and trauma reaction was certainly part of that but the way it read to me, the *desire* was the big, scary obstacle he had to figure out. Thinking Baz wants/needs certain things from him and not sure what he himself wanted or needed. Because he’d literally never thought of it before. Once that clicked for me it made perfect sense, even as it was sometimes frustrating.

    Overall, I loved the book. Rowell has a way of making large books (this one was what, 600 pages?) feel like they’re over in the blink of an eye.

  3. 3
    Becky says:

    Thanks for the great dual review of this wonderful series! I have loved every minute of it, and want to recommend the audiobooks narrated by the fantastic Euan Morton. Heather M, I had the same thoughts regarding Simon’s sexuality. He is so confused about who he is, in all areas of his life, and beset by so many problems all the time, I think it was all he could do to carry on. To paraphrase his therapist, it wouldn’t even make the list of the top ten things he needed to worry about. But I trusted that by the end of the series, he was starting to figure himself out, and that he would eventually get there, with lots of help from his loved ones, especially Baz.

  4. 4
    MMcA says:

    I’ve yet to reread this, so I don’t know how it will stack up against the other two, but I did really enjoy it.
    I would say that far from wanting the loose ends tidied up, I felt that there was cumulatively a tad too much HEA – each was welcome by itself, but whenever all characters are simultaneously happy, it’s a bit … end of a Regency series, or something.

    The burning question I was left with – and it’s a spoiler of a question, but I would love to know – does anyone have a theory as to what happened when Smith casts the spell towards the end of the book? I felt like I was supposed to be able to work it out, but I couldn’t. (To the person he cast it on, that is.)

  5. 5
    Vasha says:

    So, based on this recommendation, I started reading this series. Eight chapters in, I find myself in a dilemma. I strongly dislike Simon and if he continues on like this the book will be a chore to read. Viewing the world through a lens of self-pity is unattractive, and, to take my most prominent problem, I don’t know why (other than authorial fiat) Penelope would ever have become his friend. So, my question is, did any readers here have the same reaction and later change their minds? Tell me it’s worthwhile to carry on.

  6. 6
    Susan/DC says:

    Just finished this and want to thank everyone who recommended the trilogy because I enjoyed it immensely. My one complaint is that I thought the series ended with a few too many unanswered questions. I understand that life goes on even after the last page, but I feel that I’m leaving the table at the end of the meal and my appetite still isn’t satisfied. For example, Nico mentions to Baz that he has now become a vegan (although clearly this means something different for vampires than humans) and he’s not looking forward to some of the side effects. What does this mean exactly, for Nico and other vampire characters? Shepard has made promises to some of the magical creatures he’s met, and what will happen when the time comes to collect? What will Simon do with Excalibur? Enquiring minds want to know.
    P.S. This is definitely a series for those who hate progeny-filled Baby Epilogues, as the characters are all gay or say they don’t plan to have children.

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