Carry On. Rainbow Rowell. Macmillan. October 2015.
Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.
That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.
Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.
I loved this book so much that I don’t know how to write about it without my review turning into a 1000-word-long squeal of joy, because SIMONANDBAZSIMONANDBAZSIMONANDBAZ.
To save you the pain of reading an essay filled with my incoherent fangirling, I’m just going to give you 5 reasons why you should read this bloody marvellous book.
DISCLAIMER: You’ll now be treated to 5 essays instead of 1, and there may still be some incoherent fangirling… #sorrynotsorry
1. Carry On is an ode to fanfiction
If you’re a fan of Rainbow Rowell’s you’ll already know that Simon and his roommate Baz appear in her previous novel, Fangirl, as characters from the fictional ‘Simon Snow’ series the protagonist Cath writes fanfiction about.
In Fangirl, each chapter begins with an excerpt from either the canon Simon Snow series, or one of Cath’s fanfictions, including her longest and most popular story, ‘Carry On’. I loved following Simon and Baz’s subplot, as the hate-charged rivalry between them intensified, eventually turning into a totally different kind of relationship (well, at least, in Cath’s version of the story!)
Carry On, the novel, is naturally a million times more polished than actual fanfiction, but it reads like a celebration of it. It’s a mishmash of fantasy tropes (a lot of which are turned on their head rather nicely – more on that later!), and there’s a strong Harry Potter vibe, as the story takes place in a magical boarding school, and our protagonist Simon is the magical world’s ‘chosen one’, not unlike Mr. Potter himself. Despite the homage this story pays to HP, it is not HP fanfiction; the world-building and characters are original (essentially, this novel is Rainbow Rowell writing fanfiction about her own characters…) and I loved them all (a lot!) in their own right.
Image via Giphy
2. Carry On has ALL THE NARRATORS
Instead of the limited worldview first-person narration usually gives us, in Carry On, ALL of the main characters take a turn at narration, so we get to see the world of Mages through six different sets of eyes.
My favourite narrator was our protagonist Simon, because he’s an extremely likeable character, frequently sarcastic, and is obsessed with eating scones (therefore deeply relatable to forever-hungry me!), but I also enjoyed hearing from Penelope Bunce, Simon’s best friend, who is bright, quick-witted, and constantly flouting school rules by sneaking into his room, despite her ‘model student’ status.
Of course, I also adored Baz, Simon’s crotchety vampire roommate, whose chapters were full of swagger and arrogance (but in the most loveable, inoffensive way, I promise).
3. Carry On twists those tropes right up
Carry On takes tired tropes like ‘The Chosen One’ and gives them a shake-up. Magic doesn’t come naturally to Simon. He’s super-powerful, but super-bad at controlling his power, almost always causing some kind of accidental explosion whenever he attempts a spell. Basically he sucks at being The Chosen One.
Then we have our villain, ‘The Insidious Humdrum’ (isn’t that just the best bad-guy name though?!) He looks exactly like a younger version of Simon, and the way he operates is to drain magic right out of the air, leaving holes in the magical atmosphere where no spell will work, and where those with power may lose it all.
He’s not your average villain, because there’s a real air of mystery about him, unlike the blatantly obvious baddies of every other fantasy novel, whose power-lust is written all over their faces, and apparent in every move they make. What does The Humdrum want? Where did he even come from, for that matter? This story kept me guessing, and I wasn’t even close with my theory!
4. Carry On takes a fresh and funny look at magic
In the world of Mages, any words can be used to cast a spell, providing you’re waving your wand around AND connecting with those words and the ‘power’ they carry on that deep and mysterious level. Most of the spells the characters cast in the novel use clichéd little expressions, for example ‘Come out, come out, wherever you are!’ to make a lost item present itself, or ‘Hair of the dog!’ to cure a hangover. However, as ANYTHING goes where magic is concerned, we also get the odd ‘Scooby Dooby Doo, Where are you?’ (also a searching spell, obvs), ‘Have a break, have a KitKat!’ (to, erm… break stuff…) and we finally find out where the name of the book comes from – ‘Carry oooon, carry on!’ – when the Mage (Headmaster at the Watford School of Magicks) casts himself a Bohemian-Rhapsody-based spell…
Image via Giphy
That one really tickled me, even though it happens in the middle of a super-tense scene.
5. Carry On has SIMONANDBAZSIMONANDBAZSIMONANDBAZ
I feel I’ve been very restrained waiting until the end of my review to talk about the romance between Simon Snow and Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch, but now I’m going to let it all out, because OMG IT WAS SO PERFECT! &8ahhh<3_!!squeee!!11
(The above sequence of letters and symbols was ironic, and in no way reflects my real reaction to this book… ahem…)
I have to admit that the romance is why I bought the book, and it ended up being my favourite thing about it (quelle surprise!)
We’re made to wait for it though! Baz is missing for the first 150 pages or so… Meanwhile, Simon is obsessively trying to find out what’s happened to him (totally oblivious to the fact that he’s going to so much effort because he cares about Baz, far more than he’s willing to admit!)
I loved that Simon was so convinced he hated Baz, yet devoted so much time to searching for him. When Baz finally makes his sweeping entrance into the dining hall half-way through the school term, offering no explanation as to where he’s been, the book really gets exciting, because you, like Simon, have been waiting for this moment a long, long time, and it all suddenly kicks up a notch.
Especially when Baz, not long introduced to us, casually reveals that while he was away…
“I let myself slip away… Just to stay sane. Just to get through it. And when I felt myself slipping too far, I held on to the one thing I’m always sure of – Blue eyes. Bronze curls. The fact that Simon Snow is the most powerful magician alive. That nothing can hurt him, not even me. That Simon Snow is alive. And I’m hopelessly in love with him.”
Baz is pretty open about his feelings for Simon (at least, in his narration), but it takes Simon a lot longer to realise he feels the same way, so there’s lots of tension in the build-up (especially as Simon has considered Baz his nemesis/the bane of his existence – definitely not boyfriend material – for so long).
When they finally kiss for the first time, it was definitely a case of ALL THE FEELS (and I loathe that expression, so I don’t use it lightly here!)
I’m not sure I’ve ever fangirled so hard over a fictional relationship!
Image via Tumblr
So, in conclusion… read this book, okay? I hope it puts as big a smile on your face as it did mine, and I hope you love it as much as I do.
Also, if you have read the book, you are most welcome to come over here and fangirl/fanboy with meeeee.