Simon Snow just wants to relax and savor his last year at the Watford School of Magicks, but no one will let him. His girlfriend broke up with him, his best friend is a pest, and his mentor keeps trying to hide him away in the mountains where maybe he’ll be safe. Simon can’t even enjoy the fact that his roommate and longtime nemesis is missing, because he can’t stop worrying about the evil git. Plus there are ghosts. And vampires. And actual evil things trying to shut Simon down. When you’re the most powerful magician the world has ever known, you never get to relax and savor anything.
Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story — but far, far more monsters.
This is Rainbow Rowell at her most Rainbow Rowell-est, if I can say that – if you liked her writing before, you’ll love this, but if you didn’t, then I doubt this will work for you either. She has a very particular style – one I can’t quite pin down in words, but which I can identify nevertheless.
It’s much more of a character driven novel than an adventure one, although our main cast do get up to some dubious exploits, never fear. It’s interspersed with the things Rowell does best – dry humour, banter and snark, poignant moments, a little bit of heartbreak, and evolving friendships.
This quote in particular just packed me up laughing:
She told me later that her parents had told her to steer clear of me at school.
“My mum said that nobody really knew where you came from. And that you might be dangerous.” “Why didn’t you listen to her?” I asked.
“Because nobody knew where you came from, Simon! And you might be dangerous!”
“You have the worst survival instincts.”
“Also, I felt sorry for you,” she said. “You were holding your wand backwards.”
“Your mother was a hero. She developed a spell for gnomeatic fever. And she was the youngest headmaster in Watford history.”
Baz is looking at Penny like they’ve never met.
“And,” Penny goes on, “she defended your father in three duels before he accepted her proposal.”
“That sounds barbaric,” I say.
“It was traditional,” Baz says.
“It was brilliant,” Penny says. “I’ve read the minutes.”
“Where?” Baz asks her.
“We have them in our library at home,” she says “My dad loves marriage rites. Any sort of family magic, actually. He and my mother are bound together in five dimensions.”
Completely irreverent, and I loved it. Also, typing out these quotes made me realise that even though I’m not the biggest fan of present tense narration, I was so absorbed I didn’t even notice.
On to the elephant in the room: How does this compare to Harry Potter? In her author’s note, Rowell points out that she’s taking on the tropes of the Chosen One, and the mythology that surrounds it – and I have to say, I agree with her. Harry Potter did exactly the same thing. A brainy sidekick, a terrifying foe, an archenemy where sometimes you have to cooperate for a common goal, a Chosen One who has to save the whole world, a wise but aloof mentor – these are just tropes, utilised over and over again, of which Harry Potter is arguably the most famous, magic school-wise. But I truly think the author took these tropes and made them her own – and, more importantly, inverted quite a lot of them.
Finally, my ship. Hot damn. I want more Baz and Simon. Gah. Hate to love is one of my favourite tropes, as I’ve mentioned before, and I just loved the tension, and the snark, and the misunderstandings, and THE KISSING!
Also, Simon, do you ever think before you speak? With regards to Baz’s fangs:
“I can’t believe there’s a part of your body that grows when you need it. You’re like a mutant.”
“I’m a vampire,” Baz says, “and can you hear yourself?”
I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this one. Stayed up till 4am to read it, so you know that’s a serious endorsement. I hope the author writes more fantasy books one day – she’s definitely proved her merit here.