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 starts 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. (Summary from Amazon.com.)
As you can see, I had A LOT of feelings about this book! So if you just want the short version, skip to the last paragraph!*
Fellow lovers of Rainbow Rowell will remember her novel Fangirl, in which protagonist Cath is obsessed with the Simon Snow series and is writing fanfiction about two of its principal characters, Simon and Baz. While I really liked Fangirl overall, I noted that the “excerpts” from the Simon Snow books and from Cath’s fanfic were my least favorite parts of that novel. So, I was less than enthused when I learned that Carry On would be Rowell’s own version of the Simon/Baz romance.
I had other issues with the concept of Carry On as well. In Fangirl, it’s obvious that Simon Snow is meant to be a stand-in for Harry Potter (which makes the single HP reference in Fangirl extremely jarring!), so Carry On is, in a sense, HP fanfic. That made me feel apprehensive and a little icky, like Rowell was essentially ripping off J.K. Rowling and taking advantage of the devotion of the HP fandom. I don’t attribute any malicious motives to Rowell — I’m sure she would view Carry On as more of an homage than a copy — but the world of Simon Snow is uncomfortably similar to the world of HP.
Then there’s my own stance on fanfiction, which is that I don’t really get it. Not to take away from anyone else’s pleasure in reading or writing it, but I’ve never personally been that interested in it. I do understand the desire to remain in a beloved world and explore it further, especially if the original author left certain stories hanging and you need some closure for them. But I tend to believe the author wrote the stories s/he intended to write, and it’s not my job as a reader to “fix” storylines that didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to. So, to take the most relevant example, I know there’s a lot of Harry/Draco fanfic out there. But in the actual HP series, it’s obvious that Harry is heterosexual, and (spoilers) he eventually marries and procreates with Ginny. So I honestly don’t understand the impulse to pair Harry and Draco in fanfiction. I don’t mean to insult anyone who enjoys fanfic or who ships Harry/Draco, but I would not personally be interested in reading a slash fanfic about those characters — which is essentially the plot of Carry On, just with different character names.
I actually ended up liking Carry On a lot more than I expected to! Yes, the setting and principal characters are all very reminiscent of HP, and that still does bother me. I also wasn’t particularly invested in the monster plot and all the backstory about where the monster came from and all of that. It was predictable and rather generic for a fantasy novel. But one of Jenny’s (of Reading the End) comments really resonated with me: “I think Rainbow Rowell maybe just is not that good at plot.” YES. This is true of all her novels, which generally don’t have much plot to speak of. Where Rowell shines is her characters, who are flawed and struggling but also hopeful and determined to find a happy ending. I sympathized with Simon, who feels crushed by the weight of his “chosen” status and his inability to live up to everyone’s expectations. Penelope was a great friend, practical and loyal, even though she was a bit too Hermione-ish. And I adored Baz, as I always adore disdainful, elitist, painfully elegant antagonists who turn out to be not-so-secret heroes.
*The short version: I was nervous about Carry On, and if anyone other than Rainbow Rowell had written it, I definitely wouldn’t have read it. But I decided to trust Rowell, and I’m glad I did. For me, the positives (great characters and dialogue) outweighed the negatives (most notably, the extensive similarities to HP). If you’re on the fence about this book, I would encourage you to give it a try! And I’ll note that you definitely do NOT have to read Fangirl first, although you should read it anyway because it’s really good. 🙂