Wednesday 22 September 2021

#CBR13 Book 35: "Any Way the Wind Blows" by Rainbow Rowell

Page count: 579 pages
Audio book length: 15 hrs 3 mins
Rating: 5 stars

CBR Bingo: People 

Spoiler warning! This is book 3 in a trilogy, which wraps up a number of very important threads left dangling after the previous book. So after the brief plot summary, there WILL be spoilers in the review. If you are new to the wonderful world of Simon Snow (and Baz, and Penny and Agatha), the place to start is Carry On

This book starts pretty much immediately after our fearsome foursome (and Shepard)'s return from America to England. Simon, still in emotional turmoil after losing his magic and feeling like a burden to his friends, is given unexpected and very surprising news by Agatha's father, Doctor Wellbelove. He decides he wants to have his big dragon wings and tail surgically removed, and move out of his and Penelope's shared flat. He's done with the world of magic, which sadly also means being done with the love of his life, Baz.

Penelope would be devastated that her best friend is moving out and demanding his own space, but she's also distracted by her promise to help their new friend, non-magical Shepard, break free of his curse. However, when she tries to ask her mother for help, Professor Bunce (now headmaster of Watford) is appalled that Penny not only would reveal magical secrets to a "normal", but that she's brought him home to her family. Professor Bunce tries to wipe Shepard's memory (something he's thankfully immune to) and Penny is forced to realise that for once, it's up to her alone to solve the challenge, without help from either Simon or Baz.

Baz has to bail his aunt Fiona out of prison for having broken in at Watford and returns to his family in Oxford to find that his stepmother has left and his father is at his wit's end. His aunt Fiona claims that Daphne (his stepmother) has started following one of the NEW Chosen Ones, which piques Baz' curiosity. Of course, he's sidetracked from investigating when he returns to London to discover a note from Simon saying "he's sorry". After everything Baz and Simon have survived together, a break-up is not something Baz is going to accept without a fight.

Agatha's parents are glad to have her back from America, but as she hasn't actually told them anything of what happened to her there, they don't allow her a lot of time to wallow, giving her a job in her father's doctor's office instead. Rather intimidated by her father's intern, Agatha can't really say no when the forceful young woman insists she come along to Watford to care for the goats, who are scattered all over since Ebb Petty's tragic death over a year ago. Agatha is surprised to learn that apparently, the goats are essential to Watford's magical survival and while she was terrified of going back to the school where she experienced so many unpleasant things, taking care of goats is something she's good at. 

From this point on, there be spoilers. You have been warned!

When first reading Wayward Son, I was surprised to discover that it was, in fact, a bridging book, the second book in a completely unexpected trilogy. Considering how much I loved Carry On, the prospect of a THIRD book about my beloved characters was a very pleasant surprise. Of course, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a number of other factors, it took Ms. Rowell some time to finish this last installment, but thankfully, for me at least, it was more than worth the wait.

While a whole load of plot threads were left dangling after the second book, which was by far the most difficult read of the three, as it explores PTSD, depression, grief and allows Rowell to explore what in the world the chosen ones do after the great confrontation/battle/conclusion they were destined for is over, and they're still alive. How do you continue to live your life and get a job and just stay alive, not to mention manage a romantic relationship after you believed yourself most likely to be dead before graduation?

In this book, a lot of thinking, angsting and road trip adventures have led Baz, Simon, Penny and Agatha back to England, where their pasts still affect them, try as they might to move on. Having had Penny and Simon and then Baz and Simon together for most of the first book, while the three of them were nearly inseparable in the second, Rowell now chooses to explore what happens to the hero's best friend, the plucky sidekick, when she's not at the hero's side. Penelope is on her own for much of this book, discovering that she can't really rely on her parents' help and with Baz and Simon being far too busy figuring out their relationship drama. The good news is, Penny is more than capable to manage things on her own. Frightfully so. The revelation that possibly some of the scrapes that she and Simon ended up with during their years at Watford being just as likely to have been initiated by her and her intense need to take over and control any situation was a nice touch. Penelope Bunce is a fearsome witch and she proves it to both herself and those around her in spades in this book. It's no wonder Shepard is completely head over heels for her. Considering how many ill-advised deals he keeps making with supernatural creatures, he really needs someone like her in his corner. 

My greatest worry when going into this book was obviously what was going to happen with Baz and Simon, who have gone through so much and love each other so desperately, but are completely hopeless about dealing with their emotions due to all their previous trauma. It was very encouraging to see Baz finally stand up for himself and realise that much as he adores Simon, he's not going to allow himself to be taken for granted, ignored, or simply left behind. A proper relationship requires work, and the work needs to be done by both parties involved. 

Simon finally gets the chance to have some independence, and while he initially believes that what he wants is to sever all ties to the magical community, it quickly becomes obvious that while he may no longer have the ability to do magic, he's entirely hopeless on his own. He slowly accepts that he's worthy of being loved and that he wants to prove that to himself and Baz. Both Simon and Baz seem to think that the other one is much better off without the other, and it's only when Simon actually tries to break it off, that they figure out what a terrible idea that actually is. So much of Simon's life has been defined by him being different from everyone else, not really belonging properly anywhere or with anyone. By the end of this book, it's thankfully clear to him that he not only has a loving and loyal boyfriend, a fierce BFF, but an extended family who are overjoyed to finally get to know him. 

I know Agatha is a character that Rowell always found challenging to write, but her point of view is so important in these books. Agatha never wanted to be the girlfriend of the Chosen One. She certainly didn't want to get kidnapped or face near-death experiences on a regular basis, just because of her connection to Simon Snow. Having tried to completely sever her ties to magic in the previous book, she seems to be more grateful to have the option to use magic in self-defense, but she's still looking for her place in the world, and it's obviously not with Simon, Baz, and Penny. Her growing friendship with Niamh and newfound affinity with the magical goats of Watford wasn't at all where I was expecting her character arc to go, but it worked out beautifully, and Agatha finding her peace at the end of the book was one of the most satisfying things I got out of it, to my own surprise. 

I tried to temper my expectations for this book, but it was still one of my most anticipated releases of 2021 and I'm not going to lie about how much I wanted and needed it to have a satisfying ending for my beloved characters. Your mileage may vary, but I was very happy with this book, and by the time of writing this review, have already read it twice (first devouring the e-book in less than 24 hours, then a more leisurely re-read by listening to the audio book). I understand why Ms. Rowell may consider herself done with these characters and this universe now, but will always hope for more stories about them at some point in the future. 

Judging a book by its cover: I chose this book for the "people" category of Bingo since it features Baz and Simon in yet another exciting action pose. Simon still has his big dragon wings and tail and Baz, freed from having to wear school uniforms, still dresses sharply as ever. I love the cover art by Simon Wada so much that I had to buy a new paperback edition of Carry On so it matched the rest of my books. 
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.  

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