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.
Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.
Carry On follows Simon Snow as he faces his last year at Watford while preparing for his confrontation with the evil monster threatening the magical community (sound familiar? That’s because it is).
While I haven’t read Fangirl (don’t worry, I definitely plan to), I’m aware of how Carry On fits into that universe, and I didn’t feel like I had any problem understanding what’s going on, so it can be read on its own. Owing to this particularity, I read the book in two ways: as its own, fully realised story, but also as a piece of fanfiction.
On its own, Carry On is a fun read which raises a number of questions in the reader, particularly in the distinction between good and evil. Nothing is at it first seems here, the novel is riddled with twists are turns, owing largely to the moral ambiguity of all the characters, which is where, I think, the strength of the story lies.
The characters in Carry On are fleshed-out, fully developed and strikingly realistic, so much so that I came to understand and empathise with even the ‘villains’ of the story. Simon is incredibly sweet and brave but he’s also stubborn, and has trouble with words in a world that pushes for actively developing your ability to speak, while Baz appears to be everything a haughty aristocrat ought to be while sifting through a number of his own issues; all the characters playing a role in the story are intriguing, whether they’re minor or not. I’ve heard Rowell’s strength lies in her characters, and this is very evident in Carry On, which largely makes up for the novel’s weaker points.
While I immensely enjoyed Carry On, I felt it had a few weaknesses. When read as its own book, the plot revolves largely around the romance aspect, with the other events serving to push Simon and Baz together. As such, the pace of the book is very irregular, Baz doesn’t appear until 150 pages in (if I remember correctly) while there are too many things going on in the last few chapters, making the ending feel rushed.
The most striking aspect to Carry On is the fact that it reads like fanfiction in the style, the way the plot unfolds, how it attempts to ‘fix’ elements of the source material, and, of course, the romantic pairing that dominates the stage. If you’re in any way familiar with the Harry Potter series, you can’t possibly dissociate the two, and that was fine with me. I loved the way Rowell proposed solutions to some of the problems that plague the original series:
- The lack of diversity was addressed through Penelope Bunce. A brilliant character combining Ron’s and Hermione’s personality traits, who didn’t need a foreign sounding name. There’s never a hint of romance between her and Simon, but their relationship is one of the strongest in the book, so strong in fact that Simon’s girlfriend is jealous of it.
- The archaic take on magic is completely scrapped; instead magic in Carry On is very much alive, embodying the chief features of a language, which change through time.
- As such, the backwards customs of the wizarding community are also addressed. While they still live in the past, they also have to keep up with non-magical culture since it shapes the language they all use, and thus their access to and use of magic (it also creates a tight link between the two communities—the wizarding folk and the Normals—which was less evident in HP)
- The absolute nonsense of sorting children is also scrapped. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll defend my house (Ravenclaw) to my dying breath, but the idea that you can predict a child’s general future/career path/moral values at 11 is ridiculous.
Not only that, but Rowell also incorporates a number of very classical elements that you find in most popular Harry Potter/ Draco Malfoy fics like the handshake between Simon and Baz, the fact that Baz is a vampire (a nod to all the creature!Draco fics out there), and how their relationship develops from badly disguised infatuation on both sides to something far deeper.
I openly admit, by chapter 2 I was reading Carry On the way I would read fanfiction but I was also reading it as its own book, which is where I think the genius lies in this case. On its own, this book is great in terms of world building, characters, writing, but I found that it lagged a bit on the plot; however, the added dimension of reading it as a fic shifted the main plot into a subplot: my primary concern wasn’t how the gang was going to defeat The Insidious Humdrum, but rather how this narrative was pushing Simon and Baz towards admitting their feelings for each other.
I cannot recommend this book enough, not only for the fun story and fantastic characters, but also because it’s interesting to differentiate the different layers in Rowell’s writing and figured out how they come together.