I read Fangirl. It made me so angry at the end that I almost threw it across my bedroom, but I read it. I imagine I’m not alone when I thought that Simon Snow sounded suspiciously similar to Harry Potter. As in it could have been the same with changed names in a lot of the snippets we read of it. So when Rowell announced she was writing a Simon Snow book, how could I resist? I got the ebook copy (out of luck, I swear) and flew through it, ignoring book reviews for a weekend which put me behind. Sad face.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Summary from 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.
So yes, it started off sounding way too much like Harry Potter. An average-Joe chosen one who’s orphaned at a young age is being mentored by his school’s headmaster to fight the greatest evil of the age. I may or may not have read seven books about this already. His best friend is a fiendishly smart girl and the person who takes care of animals around campus is an unlikely friend of his. Sounding more and more like a set of eight movies I own. But there’s the internet. And a girlfriend. And a vampire roommate. Okay, somethings are different. The more I got into the plot, the more different it was. I do believe Rowell was inspired by HP fics, but she did a great job of twisting the world into something completely her own. (Side note, there are as of writing this 99 Fan Fics on fanfiction.net about Carry On. Just think about that.) Baz was a great character, but this is coming from a Malfoy fangirl. I liked Agatha because she didn’t have a direct parallel in the cannon (and yes, I’m thinking of it that way). Is this getting too Fangirl now? I’ll move on.
I thought the characters were alright. One of the things that make writing Fan Fiction a gateway to writing original fiction is that you can play with plot and not worry about developing characters to start. It’s hard for me to think of Rowell’s characters in this novel as truly original because of that. I like Agatha, as I said, but the others had a parallel strong enough to recognize and it’s hard to say she developed them well or not. I stand neutral on this topic.
Baz was my favorite character by far. He had to put up with a lot of crap from everyone around him and his wall of sarcastic superiority made sense. His family life was heart-wrenching and every time his mother was brought up, I was sad for him. I thought it was very telling of his upbringing when he said his father was more comfortable with his vampirism than his homosexuality. (Side note, vampirism being a real word makes me love English.) I knew this was going to be a slash story so I wasn’t surprised by his inner monologue or the direction of the story, but if kissing between two men is something you don’t want to read, then I would skip this story as it’s prominent.
As I’ve felt before, it’s hard to relate to the characters in fantastical novels such as Carry On. I can relate to Baz having a crush on someone very close to him and not being able to say something. I can relate to Simon and Agatha being in a relationship because they felt like they had to (one from high school, not currently). There were other small things, but fighting a gigantic power that’s threatening to end the subculture that I live in is not something I’ve encountered.
I enjoyed the relationship between Baz and Simon more than I thought I would. They were much more mature than the eighteen-year-olds they were written to be and I could relate to that ‘finally’ feeling of being with someone you’ve thought about for years (on Baz’s end) and the rush of not knowing what you’re getting into from Simon’s end. They balanced each other well in a way I could relate to. My husband and I are much the same way.
I disliked the Mage with a passion. From the beginning, when I was supposed to see him as a leader and ally, I disliked him. His story upset me the most when it would come up. I’ll try to avoid spoiling it here, but I’m upset Simon never knew the full story. I wish there had been a way for him to know about the Mage’s past in the end because I think it would have given him peace.
There are two obvious themes from this book, the first of which is sacrifice. Simon is forced to give up something dear to him that defines who he is for the greater good. Losing it makes him feel damaged and lacking and it becomes hard for him to be happy about what he did because of his personal loss.Even with his sacrifice, there are gains in his life that he overlooks. Sacrificing something doesn’t mean losing everything and Simon still has that journey to go. (I hope I didn’t ruin anything there, I tried not to.) The second is being true to yourself. Baz and Simon struggled with this the most, but Agatha and Nick had to fight it as well. Agatha disliked everything about her magickal life. She loved the summers with her Normal friends and horses and knew returning to that would make her happy. Nick had gone against logic to become what he wanted to be (again, being vague) and had to live with consequences he didn’t foresee. If he’d been happy with who he was in the first place, the drama he had to put up with and the pain and isolation he surely felt would have been nonexistent.
Writer’s Takeaway: What a fun book. Honestly, I read it so fast because it was fun. This is Rowell’s strength more than anything else. She writes books that I enjoy reading because the journey is worth it. This isn’t serious literature by any means and that’s okay. There’s an audience for a book like this and I’m glad she published it because I think it could pave a path for other ‘slash’ stories to become popular. Rowell put her neck out there with this book, breaking from her usual genres and I’m glad she was brave enough to do that.
I gobbled up this fun book in eight days. I loved it. Five out of Five stars.
Until next time, write on.
PS- This song was stuck in my head the whole time I was reading the book.