It’s been almost a year since the events of Carry On, and things aren’t alright. Agatha was so fed up with magical quests and adventures that she is attending school in San Diego and left even her wand behind. Simon, Baz and Penelope Bunce are living together, attending university, except that Simon isn’t exactly going or leaving the couch much at all these days. How does one move on with life after accomplishing the thing one was chosen to do? How to deal with all the drama? Bunce has a solution: road trip through America! In her mind, it will solve three problems: they can check on Agatha, distract Simon and she can see her boyfriend Micah.
Rowell opened up the door to explore a lot of different interesting topics, both from a wider world building perspective and personal level for the characters. PTSD, lack of direction, inability to communicate were all big parts of what was going on. Add in exploring magic systems in the US, a potential evil society, and Baz finally getting exposure to other views of vampires? It has so much potential.
It’s been a long time since I read Carry On so I can’t remember how I felt about the characters in the previous novel, but Agatha’s story was the most intriguing to me, followed by Baz (despite the frequent pet murders to quench his thirst). Bunce was unbearable, and I am not even sure what was going on with Simon and Baz’s relationship – I mean I know it’s all related to the PTSD and insecurity on both their parts, but I wasn’t rooting for them as a pair. I can both feel sympathetic for what Simon must be going through and still think he needs to deal with his issues based on how he treats those around him. It was frustrating how judgmental and yet ill prepared Bunce was, and I know it was supposed to show how all the characters were struggling with the events of basically all of their school career but it didn’t make me want to strangle her less. Considering that Rowell is usually so great at creating characters it is easy to care about, it was a surprise that I had that reaction to the novel. I was getting a bit bored halfway through, mostly because I didn’t want to deal with Bunce so there is a bit of a pacing issue. There is some action at the end but it was too rushed, – I would have been fine with it being a simple road trip novel without a bigger story line if the characters had really gotten somewhere, but it’s like Rowell felt like she had to have a grand finale and set the stage for another story.
Now, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy parts, but for me it was a bit of miss. Of course, Rowell has been so reliable in her previous books, that I may have set expectations too high. I liked Agatha’s story line, I liked much of what was going on with Baz and some new perspectives he saw in America. Being from the Midwest, I thought Baz’s reactions to the Midwest were hilarious, including his list of everything he hated which included various Midwestern states and bands named after them.