By Elly Murray
Rainbow Rowell is the New York Times Bestselling author of Eleanor & Park and Fangirl. Carry On is her third young adult book, published in 2015, and it marks the first book of a trilogy that she’s currently working on. Carry On is actually an expansion of a world that Rowell first presented in Fangirl back in 2013. She explains in the author’s note in Carry On that, “In Fangirl, Simon is the hero of a series of children’s adventure novels written by Gemma T. Leslie - and the subject of much fanfiction written by the main character, Cath. When I finished that book, I was able to let go of Cath and her boyfriend, Levi, and their world. I felt like I was finished with their story...But I couldn’t let go of Simon.”
Carry On follows a teenager named Simon Snow, who attends a magical school called Watford in the UK. He’s the Mage’s Heir, which means he has a ridiculous amount of power that he has no idea how to control, and along with his best friend, Penny, and his rival, Baz the vampire, he has to figure out a way to defeat the Insidious Humdrum. If any of this sounds a little bit familiar, it’s for a good reason; the world and characters of Carry On were inspired by the wizarding world of Harry Potter. However, instead of the whole seven books of adventures, Rowell starts Carry On at the beginning of everyone’s last year at Watford.
The first third of the book was a bit dull, because it was all set-up. Rowell had to introduce this entire world that she’d created that is very similar to the world in Harry Potter, but that has its own little niches. And while it was interesting to learn all about this new world, I wish she had taken a more gradual approach. It kind of read how a middle-school writer would start a story, by explaining everything the reader needed to know about the world, versus just letting them experience it themselves. Additionally, as a result of this, we don’t really get a sense of who the characters are, or get a chance to form attachments to them, until a bit later in the book. However, once the book finally got going, it was very interesting. If you’ve read Harry Potter, you’re sitting there the whole time making these little comparisons in your head. And you discover that apart from a few similarities, Rowell really took the time to make this tale much more than just a Harry Potter fanfiction. You can see how Rowell was inspired by J.K. Rowling’s world, but then she took that inspiration and created something completely different with it.
I felt that Simon was a very fleshed-out character. He is a “Chosen One” character, but he’s got his own personality rather than just being a mold to fit the stereotypes of that archetype. One of my favorite things about him is that he’s a fiend intent on devouring every piece of food he comes across. In fact, one of my favorite lines in the book is from Baz about Simon. Simon is questioning him about being a vampire and he asks, “Does it have to be fatal every time? The biting? Couldn’t you just drink some of a person’s blood, then walk away?’ and Bas responds, “I can’t believe you’re asking me this, Snow. You, who can’t walk away from half a sandwich” (p. 349). In addition to just being really cute and relatable, Simon’s food obsession also provides a deeper level of character development for him; as an orphan who has gone through the U.K.’s foster care system, he’s always overwhelmed by how much food there is available at Watford that he is allowed to eat. In fact, when he makes a list of things that he misses at Watford on page 12, the very first thing is ‘Sour Cherry Scones.’
I also really loved how a lot of the characters’ descriptions come from what other characters think or say about them. Examples of this would be “Baz is...indelible. He’s a human grease stain. (Mostly human)” (p. 88) or “Baz was sure I’d singed off his eyebrows, but he looked fine to me-not a hair out of place. Typical” (p. 7) both of which are from Simon. Another one, from Penny about Simon, is very prominent: “Too thin. He looks too thin. And something worse...scraped” (p. 32) I really enjoy this method of characterization, as opposed to the more direct route of just describing a character because it feels much more natural and it’s sort of like a two-birds-one-stone scenario. At the same time as getting a description of Character A from Character B, we also get a sense of how Character B thinks, based on what they think about others. For example, in the quote above from Penny, we see that Simon is too skinny. But we also see that Penny is very caring and worried about her friend.
There’s also a very simple map in the front. I usually greatly appreciate a map, especially one that isn’t overly complicated. However, this map might have been too simple; half of the buildings at Watford weren’t labeled, so the reader has no idea what they are. I also would have perhaps liked to see visualizations for places outside of Watford where significant events took place, like Baz’s house.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes tales of magic and romance. It’s witty, descriptive, and really just everything I could ask for in a YA fantasy novel. With a well-built world and fleshed-out characters, Carry On is perfect for anyone who loved Harry Potter, but felt themselves wanting more.
Want your own copy of Carry On? Get it from us here:
And while you’re at it, pick up a copy of the second book, Wayward Son: It explores something that isn’t often considered: what happens to the hero when their story is over and they’ve saved the day?
I hope you’re all staying safe at home! These are some crummy times, but you can always turn to a good book for comfort. So read on!
Max Ruthless: Owner & Ruthless Reader