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 didn’t initially plan to buy this book. It is based on a fanfiction that a character wrote in Fangirl, another book by the same author. I LOVE Fangirl. I love that Rainbow Rowell created a character I can relate to so much, and I am definitely going to read it again at some point. I’d even go so far as to say it’s one of my all time favorites. So why wasn’t I thrilled to read Carry On?
In Fangirl, Carry On is a fanfiction about a fictional series of books called Simon Snow. Even though Harry Potter is also mentioned for no reason that makes sense to me at all, it’s very clear that Simon Snow is a stand-in for Harry Potter. I loved that Cath was writing Simon Snow fanfiction as a
lifestyle hobby, and there were parts of the fanfic that I enjoyed, but mostly the excerpts seemed like more of a parody than anything else. I didn’t think it would work as a book, so I wasn’t overjoyed when Rowell announced the news. I have since learned that Carry On isn’t the exact fanfic Cath wrote in Fangirl, but a different story, and you can definitely read it without having read Fangirl.
Carry On and Harry Potter
I bought the book because I read it’s a comment on Chosen One stories (which I love, but can also criticize a lot) and …well, everyone was getting excited, and I sort of got swept up by the wave of social media love. My main worry was that it would be too much like Harry Potter. And it is – but it also isn’t. Let me explain.
There’s a hardly a book that features a magical boarding school that isn’t accused of stealing from Harry Potter. Probably even if it was released earlier. Carry On is an obvious “target”, because it IS based on a fictional series that is in turn based on Harry Potter. It’s impossible to talk about Carry On without talking about Harry Potter. The difference is that Carry On is consciously intertextual and (mostly) uses it to its advantage. The whole book is basically one big Harry Potter reference, but the characters are NOT the Harry Potter characters and the world didn’t feel more like Harry Potter than most books with a similar premise I’ve read. It really is more about Chosen One stories in general, and I quite enjoyed that.
So that’s Harry Potter out of the way, right? Well, no, not quite. There’s another level to this that I find deeply fascinating, but that might not appeal to all readers the book is going to have, or even readers of this review. Carry On doesn’t just reference Harry Potter as is – it references a lot of Harry Potter and especially Harry/Draco fanfiction tropes, like for example Harry stalking Draco in sixth year (Simon follows Baz around because he suspects he’s a vampire). The whole Simon/Baz dynamic is exactly like Harry/Draco in Harry Potter fanfiction. This is incredibly interesting to me, because fanfiction is becoming more and more mainstream, but at the same time I still feel weird discussing Harry/Draco fanfiction on my public blog that everyone – and I mean everyone – can access. The fact that the publishing industry is making space for transformative works and queer relationships is kind of surreal to me. And by surreal I mean awesome.
Now that I’ve written half an essay, let’s get to the actual book! I have to admit that I struggled with the first 150 or so pages. There’s this huge build-up for Baz to appear, but it takes ages and ages while nothing much else happens, which makes the beginning of the book a bit of a slow read. The relationships between the characters are already established (imagine being thrown into the Harry Potter world at the beginning of book seven), but Rowell does a fairly good job of introducing us to them. Some aspects of the Simon Snow world seemed slightly ridiculous to me, but I love the unique mechanics of magic and language it uses.
The book starts picking up when Baz finally arrives on the scene and things start happening. There’s adventure and sleuthing and quite a bit of romance, but the best part was definitely the banter. Simon on his own wasn’t the most interesting character to read about (sorry Simon, but have an opinion for god’s sake), but Baz was snarky and tortured and basically perfect. He’s done some really messed up stuff in the past, but we enter the scene when he’s more or less redeemed himself (unbeknownst to the other characters), so it’s easy to like him. I don’t want to spoil to much, but the romance was fun and I enjoyed how everything was wrapped up. The endings of Fangirl and Eleanor & Park felt a bit rushed to me, but I was satisfied with this one.
I enjoyed the book, and I can recommend it if you like magic, romance and snark. I’d be very interested to know how the reading experience differs when you’re not as familiar with the other texts the book references, so let me know if that’s you! Carry On gets four stars from me, because the beginning was slow, but it really was a fun read.