I really enjoyed An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, the first novel in Hank Green’s The Carls duology. It was one of those books that ticked off so many items on a theoretical checklist of what I like in science fiction. But, of course, it ended on a pretty killer cliffhanger. So, when the sequel, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor, was announced, I was utterly excited to give it a read. Was it even possible for the sequel to be as good as the first book? Could Green bring the whole story to a satisfying conclusion? In short: yes. Yes to all of that. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is about as good as any sequel could hope to be. And I loved every second of it. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: There may be mild spoilers for A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor. You have been warned.
The Carls disappeared the same way they appeared, in an instant. While the robots were on Earth, they caused confusion and destruction with only their presence. Part of their maelstrom was the sudden viral fame and untimely death of April May: a young woman who stumbled into Carl’s path, giving them their name, becoming their advocate, and putting herself in the middle of an avalanche of conspiracy theories. Months later, April’s friends are trying to find their footing in a post-Carl world. Andy has picked up April’s mantle of fame, speaking at conferences and online; Maya, ravaged by grief, begins to follow a string of mysteries that she is convinced will lead her to April; and Miranda is contemplating defying her friends’ advice and pursuing a new scientific operation…one that might have repercussions beyond anyone’s comprehension. Just as it is starting to seem like the gang may never learn the real story behind the events that changed their lives forever, a series of clues arrive—mysterious books that seem to predict the future and control the actions of their readers—all of which seems to suggest that April could be very much alive. In the midst of the search for the truth and the search for April is a growing force, something that wants to capture our consciousness and even control our reality.
I rarely devour a book as quickly as I devoured A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor. Like the first book in the series, this one is extremely fast-paced, but never in a way where you feel like you’ve been left behind. It’s just that the story hits the ground running and never lets up off the gas. And that makes for an extremely enjoyable experience. Though, that said, this tactic works slightly better in the first novel than it does here. Here, I found myself wishing that Green had found a way of recapping the events of the first book a bit more than he did. I mean, it’s been the better part of two years since I read An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and I’d forgotten a good deal of what happened. Luckily, there are just enough drops of exposition scattered throughout the first third of the book that even a reader like me who’d forgotten almost all of the previous novel should be good to go.
And once you’re up to speed with what previously happened, it’s very easy to enjoy what Green does in this novel. While the previous book was written almost entirely from April May’s point of view, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor splits the narration fairly evenly between five characters – Andy, April, Miranda, Maya, and Carl. This takes a bit of time to get used to, but once you get used to it you’ll enjoy how the shifting points of view add tension to the story. It’s a delight to hear from each of the characters in the story. Their differing perspectives adds variety to the narrative and bouncing between them makes the world feel bigger and more open. It feels more like a recounting of something that actually happened and less like a novel. Though, this comes with a bit of a caveat. While the characters all have clear and distinct voices, there are times where they feel a bit too similar to one another. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does happen it’s very easy to find yourself momentarily lost – until you look at the title of the chapter (each chapter is named after the person narrating). On the whole, though, the shifting points of view is a gift to this story and works brilliantly.
Additionally, around 3/4 of the chapters each begin with some kind of outside source explaining what’s going on in the greater world of the novel (newspaper articles, blogs, podcast transcripts, etc). I adored this element. It’s a very clever way of world-building that ensures the information broadens our understanding of the world while still feeling relevant to the story. It’s an intriguing way to tell a story, but it completely worked. This novel is a very easy read, but it’s also a very satisfying one.
I don’t really want to talk about the plot of the novel. It’s one of those stories that’s best experienced in the moment, as spoiler-free as possible. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is filled with the kinds of twists and turns and surprises that are best experienced on your own. But I will tease some of the things I really enjoyed. If An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a first-contact story, then A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is an adventure/thriller where all the characters try to defeat the threat. With that, there comes a lot of cool ideas and even cooler action sequences. I wouldn’t call the first book an action book, nor would I call this one. But there are scenes here that are action-packed, and Green writes them brilliantly. They are so much fun.
Equally enjoyable, though, is the plot itself and the themes packed within it. Green stuffs a lot of really cool science fiction ideas and tropes into this novel. Some of them build off of ideas he played with throughout the first book, while others are new to this one. All of them are handled extremely well and are delightful to read. As I said, I have no intention of talking about the plot in any detail, but I will say that almost every question you had at the end of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing gets answered in this book. You wanna know who the Carls are and what they want? Cool, you’ll learn that. You wanna know what, exactly, happened at the end of the first book? You’ll learn that too. That’s not to say that every question is answered. There are definitely a few that are left unresolved, but they don’t feel relevant to the story and so it’s not frustrating having them unanswered.
There are also some tantalizingly delicious new questions raised here – though most of them are thematically based – chief among them being how much of ourselves are we willing to give to the services and companies that we spend so much of our lives using? Like the first novel, much of A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor acts as a biting commentary of social media. While the commentary in the first novel was about how social media tears us apart, the commentary in this one is about how dangerous it can be placing untold amounts of power in the hands of sparingly few people. When a particular company knows almost everything about you, what could they do with that information? A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor doesn’t answer that question so much as explore one possibility. But it opens the door to a discussion about how we spend our time and creativity and whom we give it to. All good science fiction explores ideas like these and Green tackles them in surprising and engaging ways here. It’s one of those books that will stick with you long after you finish it, not because the plot was incredibly amazing, but because the themes wormed their way into your mind. And it’s great.
At the end of the day, if you loved An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, you’re gonna love A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor. It takes everything that worked in that first novel and makes it even better. It’s action-packed, exciting, and filled with biting social commentary. It answers almost every question the first book left hanging while posing some interesting philosophical and ethical questions for the reader to answer on their own. I honestly can’t recommend this book enough nor can I fully explain how much I enjoyed it. It’s not perfect – I wish there was a bit more of a recap of the first novel and I wish the ending spent just a touch more time with the characters after the climax. But, overall, it’s fantastic. Even if you didn’t love An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, I think that A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor brings enough new stuff to the table that it might still prove enjoyable.
4.5 out of 5 wands.