Thank you to Wednesday Books for sending me a copy of Any Way the Wind Blows for an honest review.
I’ve often lovingly referred to the Simon Snow series as “Gay Harry Potter.” That’s partly because Carry On, the first book in Rainbow Rowell‘s trilogy, intentionally satirizes the traditional Chosen One narrative. But, more importantly, I didn’t read Carry On until after that whole J.K. Rowling thing last year. I needed a new wizard in my life. And, holy heck, I found myself a queer one. The trilogy’s final installment, Any Way the Wind Blows, came out July 6. Oh my goodness, do I have some feelings! (I always have feelings) (I’m a feelings monster).
~ All the spoilers for Carry On (book one) and Wayward Son (book two); light spoilerage for Any Way the Wind Blows ~
“I’m done playing dungeons and dragons with you lot.”
First! A brief introduction to the main cast and where they are when Any Way the Wind Blows begins:
Simon Snow is the former Chosen One. A year and a half after giving up his magic to save the World of Mages, he’s still depressed, he’s still got dragon wings … and a tail. His road trip to America in Wayward Son didn’t really solve anything. Can our beloved dragon boy use the inheritance he receives from his dead mentor/abuser (whom he himself killed!) to start over?
Baz Pitch is Simon’s enemy-turned-boyfriend. He’s also a vampire who refuses to drink people. Baz knows that his relationship with Simon’s on the rocks, but he doesn’t know what to do about it? Also, his stepmum’s missing.
Penelope Bunce is Simon’s best friend. But she’s more than just his sidekick! She’s also the woman who brought home a demon-cursed Normal (someone without magic) as a souvenir from America. Can she save him? Is that even her job?
Shepard “from Omaha” is said Normal. He joined the main trio in book two.
Agatha Wellbelove is Simon’s ex-girlfriend. She’s only back from America because she couldn’t stop being kidnapped even 5,000 miles away from Simon. Now that she’s back in the UK, what’s she gonna do with her life?
“I didn’t lose him — he decided to leave. Simon is an adult.”
I loved Any Way the Wind Blows. To pieces. Absolute pieces. The pieces it left me in. An anecdote to Wayward Son, this book is a “how-to” guide in communication. It’s super low stakes in some arenas — no humans die (tons of small animals do, though). There are no vampires running Silicon Valley, no magic-eating Humdrums (There are, however, flying goats!).
Any Way the Wind Blows focuses on interpersonal relationships. Anything that might be considered a typical hero-saves-the-day plot takes up probably fewer than 200 pages of this 500+ page tome. That’s not a criticism. The bulk of the novel splits the main cast into three groups: Baz and Simon, Penny and Shepard, Agatha and newcomer Niamh. Their parallel storylines intersect only when necessary.
The beauty of this is that there’s no Hero, no Sidekick anymore. As readers, we’ve grown to love each of these characters in their own right. And now, they have their own adventures, separate from the Chosen One. But they’re all still friends. They’re there for each other when they really need it. That’s growing up, right?
Any Way the Wind Blows really says yes to setting healthy boundaries in all your relationships.
“I think you mean that we use the power of language to harness the world’s magic in a way that you can only contemplate.”
I’ve always appreciated Rowell’s writing style; the trilogy is mostly in first person, present tense and is very dialogue-heavy. This style lends a poetry to the prose while leaving room for some downright unreliable narration from the protagonists. Also, Rowell can squeeze the narrative juice out of punctuation like nobody’s business. She doesn’t overwrite and trusts her audience to read between the literal lines. There are moments I felt I was reading a play, not a novel. It’s so lovely.
The magic, humor, whimsy and overall creativity of the Simon Snow series gets me every time. Talking fox-people? Mermaid STIs? “Yeeting” a classroom into oblivion? The trilogy’s magic system is based on words. All spells are taken from clichés and sayings, memes, songs, whatever is used by Normals. So, the more the gen pop uses a phrase, the more powerful the spell becomes.
That background is what makes the use of names and what people call each other that much more important. Mages have a tendency to reserve first names for people they’re close to, opting to address others by last name or with honorifics. Like any good fairy tale, Any Way the Wind Blows plays with the powers of names — magically and more metaphorically. Think Rumpelstiltskin meets Call Me by [My] Name.
“No, thank you. I have enough on my plate.”
And, as with the first two books, Any Way the Wind Blows doesn’t end neat and tidy. You might think that’s a problem, considering this is the conclusion of a trilogy. But I loved it. It grounds the fantasy, in reality, giving the story room to breathe. And being able to breathe is one of the novel’s running motifs. The narrative wouldn’t have gained anything by ticking off more boxes for the sake of ticking them off. Plus, Rowell’s just left herself a window to revisit these characters in the future. These kiddos still got a bucketload of emotional issues to mine. Yay!
“I just wanted your attention!”
What makes a good parent? What is acceptable to ask of your children? How do you deal when your kids aren’t what you expected? How much of ourselves do we owe the people who raised us?
Early adulthood is often when we get to start setting the terms of our relationships with our caregivers. In Any Way the Wind Blows, we see the main trio, particularly Baz, reevaluate the familial bonds in their lives. Baz comes from one of those “it’ll go away if we don’t talk about it” families. The it being his vampirism and gayness. Woof, do I feel that. When my parents learned that I was a vamp …
But is it possible to mend bridges? Can our families grow? Are we willing, able to, meet them halfway? It’s a delicate subject and Rowell does not treat it lightly. There are no pat answers here, no platitudes.
“Is this what people do?” /// “This is what people do.”
What do you need? Do you deserve? Are you allowed to want?
So, like, falling in love is quick, it’s easy; staying in love? That’s the work; that’s the choice. So many stories (Carry On included) end with a sweeping kiss. And ask us to believe that’s Happily Ever After. But that’s not relationships. In many ways, Any Way the Wind Blows ended where I expected it to end and hit many of the plot points I expected it to.
But, it was so much rawer, so much more intimate, than I expected. Physical intimacy occupies a lot of page time in Any Way the Wind Blows. Discussions and depictions of sex are franker than I expected in such a mainstream YA book. Attempting to “take it to the next level” with a partner when you’re battling mental illness isn’t always a cakewalk. Sex takes work. I appreciate seeing that addressed. And I applaud the publisher for maintaining its 14+ age recommendation for the series (especially considering how violent the first two books were, compared to this one).
Don’t be mistaken; the physical intimacy in this book exists to further character and emotional development. For example, in Wayward Son, Simon and Baz touch each other how they wanted to be touched themselves. Here, they have to learn how to communicate their needs and desires. And, more importantly, reach compromises, so they’re both happy. Most importantly, sex, romantic love don’t automatically heal any of these characters; they don’t shed every insecurity about their more “monstrous” qualities, both literal and figurative, just because they’re getting laid. I mean, I’m almost 34 years old and still figuring that ish out. Growth is hard, y’all.
Is it realistic that an entire group of people ends up happy and coupled? Probs not. But I don’t care. Because each pairing faces different challenges. I mean, we’re dealing with: PTSD, depression, speciesism/classism, compulsory heterosexuality, just to skim the surface.
“I usually date girls.”
Nearly every main character in this book is queer, and only one character labels himself as gay. The rest … we either don’t know or specifically don’t feel a label fits. Now, there never needs to be a narrative reason for a character to be queer, right? But queers are magic and since so much of the Simon Snow series is about defying expectations, the queering of the Chosen One archetype just works. It’s also awesome that half the cast are people of color, half are described as chubby or fat, and that literally everyone is dealing with trauma.
So, before I go on … I will address the elephant in the room: Rainbow Rowell has had some iss-ues with racism and refuses to acknowledge it. I am not defending those actions; that very real problematic-ness is separate from what I want to address here.
In Any Way the Wind Blows, Rowell is a (presumably) cishet white woman writing about two queer couples and an interracial BIPOC couple. She, and many others in her demographic, are accused of fetishization of gay men just because queer men exist in their stories. To me, fetishization is when marginalized characters exist for the sake of titillation, or more generously, for brownie points.
Obviously, problematic content should be called out. And if you don’t wanna read this book because of Rowell’s past behavior, I also get that. My worry is that even well-intentioned gatekeeping will limit future opportunities for aspiring queer and BIPOC writers. Publishing is a business, after all. It’s not impossible to write outside of your personal experience, and it’s not inherently problematic to do so, in my opinion, at least. That this book makes me, and many, many others feel seen proves that. But, I acknowledge it doesn’t work for everyone. Nothing can.
“‘It was so good,'” I whisper.”
I came to this series last summer, during quarantine when my mood disorder wasn’t doing that great, when I wasn’t in a good place with a now ex. It was downright painful to read at times. Being a thirty-something yelling at fictional characters, telling them to just f***ing communicate? Not my finest hour. But, it was healing. It helped reading about trauma from the comfort of a fantasy version of reality. My undiagnosed mood swings stole a lot of my adolescence and twenties. Maybe that’s why I love YA. Or, maybe it’s a queer thing. Possibly, it’s just a human thing.
I’ve tried to express how much Simon Snow and Any Way the Wind Blows mean to me and nearly 2,000 words hasn’t even scratched the surface. This book won’t leave me for a long while. If ever.
- Anyway the Wind Blows: Abuse (mentioned), animal death, cult, depression, PTSD, kidnapping (mentioned), racism/speciesism, queerphobia, mild violence, orphanhood, suicide attempt (referenced), sexual content.
- Wayward Son: Alcohol abuse, animal death, assault (groping), death, depression, PTSD, kidnapping, racism/speciesism, queerphobia, orphanhood, graphic violence (guns and paranormal), therapy.
- Carry On: Abuse, bullying, animal death, death, queer character death, racism/speciesism, queerphobia, suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, manipulation, violence, orphanhood, very mild sexual content, therapy.
Any Way the Wind Blows is out now. Pick up a copy at your local indie bookstore or library.