Title: Carry On
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Check this book out on Goodreads.
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. (Source: Goodreads)
Spun from the pages of Fangirl, this fanfiction of a fanfiction of a fanfiction of Harry Potter follows Chosen One, Simon Snow, as he attempts to defeat the Insidious Humdrum. Teaming up with his roommate/nemesis, Baz, and his best friend, Penelope, Simon tackles the monster who consumes the magic in the atmosphere while also dealing with an ongoing mage war and the questionable stuff his mentor, The Mage, is getting up to.
I’m sorry but I don’t get this book, and I don’t get why people like it. My first review on this blog was Rowell’s previous book Landline, if you read that review you’ll know exactly how much I love Rainbow Rowell. Fangirl was a life changing read for me, it meant everything to me when I read it. But this book…I thought it was trash, and the fact that it’s my absolute favourite author will not lead me to forgive it for being a bad book. On top of being an overly meta Harry Potter rip-off there’s also: bad writing, weird choices for how magic works, poorly developed characters, endless exposition, poor pacing, confusing quick-jumping narration, and absolutely no actual substance to this book. There are very few redeeming qualities in this book, I think the ending was significantly better than the beginning but I still can’t excuse the rest of the book for being bad.
There’s so much about this book I didn’t like I don’t know how to start, so I guess I’ll just work through my previous points one by one. Carry On is overly meta. This book, as I’ve mentioned, is fanfiction of fanfiction of fanfiction. So how does that work? Well based on the Author’s Note at the end of the book I got that this book is fanfiction written by Rowell based on fanfiction written by her character Cath based on the Simon Snow series in Fangirl which is fanfiction written by Rowell based on Harry Potter. How overly convoluted is that? Okay so fine…you’re cool with meta, I’m cool with meta too. The problem is this much meta needs to say something and Carry On said absolutely nothing. It just read like a bad Harry Potter ripoff. I have to say I just read the HP series days before reading this book and it just brings into focus how bad this was by comparison. Harry Potter had so much depth and said so much about love, bravery, history, death, and life. Carry On was a masturbatory experimental foray into slash fiction. Because that really seems to be what this book was about – letting us see our Harry and Draco analogues finally make out.
The writing in this book was so subpar for Rowell. There were no clever moments, nothing made my heart leap with joy or love, I didn’t feel sad or touched or anything. I felt nothing reading this book. I just… I read it and then it ended. There’s a lot of things that contribute to the issues with the writing in this book. On a base level that I can’t really pinpoint, the writing just wasn’t on point, it didn’t even really feel like very well written fanfiction, just sort of average. Beyond that there were other really clear problems though. The first 200 or so pages were exposition, exposition that continued on and off throughout the book but that cluttered up that initially hooking phase of the book and just sucked all the energy out of the book. Rowell had to cram 7 years worth of info somewhere into this book and she tacked it on to the beginning and it just bored me.
This leads into a lot of pacing issues. The first third of the book is beyond dull, while the final third of the book is so fast paced you kind of lose yourself in it. Throughout there’s still just long portions of dragging boredom mixed with too fast action or too fast conclusions being made, and it just lost me completely. Mixing in with that we also have the issues of jumping narration. The narrator in this book is not set, it changes chapter to chapter or just randomly mid chapter. The final set of chapters changes narration sentence to sentence at points which just sort of pissed me off. All of the narration is first person meaning the book is endlessly introspective, and endlessly expositional. The action is totally overshadowed by people reflecting on their pasts or filling us in on details we didn’t get because we’re jumping in at book 8. It’s not good.
Another sort of weird choice Rowell makes in this book is the magical systems. Magic in Simon Snow’s world is entirely verbal and requires the use of phrases that have been made magic but their constant use or their continued popularity with the Normal world. That’s kind of a cool concept, I like that idea of words having power. The normal taking on this magical element. But to me it just didn’t work. It was kind of frustrating seeing these characters screaming catch phrases and cliches at each other. And that it was all in bold made my eye twitch a little. Something about the system just didn’t work the way it ought to have.
Now about those characters…I didn’t really care for them. And I think that’s a problem. I wasn’t invested in them, I didn’t care about them. I didn’t think their story needed to be told. We have these characters, but interesting and loveable and deep and fully fleshed already in Harry Potter so I didn’t really need Simon Snow or his friends. Everyone is an analogue or nearly everyone is for an HP character. The obvious ones are Simon Snow=Harry Potter, Penelope Bunce=Hermione Granger, Baz Grimm-Pitch=Draco Malfoy, and The Mage=Dumbledore. There’s others though. Agatha is sort of a Ginny/Ron mash-up, Ebb is Hagrid, the Humdrum is sort of Voldemort.
So we have these analogues but they aren’t really doing or saying anything important. That’s kind of the problem, they don’t have any substance, no flesh, they’re just substitutes for something that felt real and said something about the world. Simon Snow at times feels like a commentary on Harry’s unending need to be the centre of the world but I think that’s a very surface view of Harry, I never felt like he wanted or needed to mean that much to anyone. But Simon Snow expects the world to just do his bidding because he’s Simon Snow. The Mage could be a commentary on Dumbledore’s evasiveness and secretive qualities – maybe even on his obsession with the Hallows. The trouble is that The Mage reads evil – not flawed like Dumbledore but purely and entirely evil. The twist at the end of the book involving the Humdrum really adds something to the book that it’s otherwise lacking but doesn’t make up for the fact that none of it really means anything in the long run – I didn’t take anything away from reading this book.
So redeeming qualities? There’s maybe one or two. The chemistry between Baz, Penelope, and Simon was undeniably there. It wasn’t on the same level as any of Rowell’s other work but it was still there, making those chapters where the trio plots really fun and easy to read. The twist at the end of the book, while very predictable was still good, and probably produced some of the best writing in the book. Unfortunately that’s where the good stuff ends for me though.
I don’t recommend this book. If you want Rowell either read for the first time any of her other work, or revisit those you loved. This book is not worth it.