Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Carry On
by Rainbow Rowell

Genres: Comedy, Fantasy, LGBT, Romance, Young Adult
Publication date: 6 October 2015
Format: Paperback

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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.

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.

Last week, I reviewed Fangirl and revealed my love for it! This week, I once again applaud Rainbow Rowell for Carry On! Now, Carry On is a book I would only recommend to either ardent fans of Fangirl and/or Harry Potter. A lot of the jokes would lost some of its meaning otherwise. Thankfully, I am madly in love with BOTH Fangirl AND Harry Potter. In a word, I am the perfect target for this book, so I similarly adored it. It’s basically Harry Potter, or any Chosen One story, with many awesome ‘What If’s’. Here’s just a few of the important ones!

CarryOn1Yes, I know there were a couple of non-white people in Harry Potter – drifting around in the background. Oh, and we had one gay character, a fact that was only added as a note after the series concluded. Have you wondered what it would be like if there were MORE diversity? Because it get served with it in Carry On!

– We have diverse sexuality! I don’t think it’s a shock to ANYONE that Carry On features an M/M relationship, it’s in the cover – it’s also a HUGE part of its selling point. I also loved the way the relationship was handled here. In classic Rainbow Rowell fashion, we saw the awkwardness of teenage relationship, dealt with both earnest emotions and a healthy dose of hilarity.

– We have a racial diversity! Carry On’s Penelope (basically a reincarnation of Hermione with a penchance for bending rules) is part Indian! Her mother is a respected and fearsome witch, who sometimes chants spells in Hindi. Majority of the characters are not lily-white.

– We have size diversity, again, Penelope is round and gives no fucks. She is basically the best!

CarryOn2While I will always love Harry Potter – it has the best nostalgia value and incredible worldbuilding – I did think that the series was ultimately quite black/white. Slytherins were always marginalised: from the imagery to the serpent, to the fact that they didn’t help out in the final battle against Voldemort. Although a million fanfics beg otherwise, Draco Malfoy remains relatively cowardly until the very end.

In Carry On, we have Baz: a vampire, a rival, a Slytherin to the core – complete with gothic styled home and pedigreed bloodline. Yet, he gets a more layered treatment. Through his point of view, we see that even *he* thinks his manor is a bit ridiculous, and that he views his ‘henchmen’ as friends. He also pokes fun at the constant posturing and schemes he’s hatched against Simon ever since they were 11. His family, while all have a dark streak, are also endearing in their own way. The world in Carry On is a lot more gray, and for that, I appreciate it.

This universe’s answer to Dumbledore is also similar layered, he feels almost sinister in the way he monitors and coddles Simon Snow. While the book similarly deals with the segregation of classes: with The Mage championing magical education for all – while the aristocratic Families fight back, it does so in a more interesting manner. It introduces the moral ambiguity of a man almost lost in his cause, and the negative backlash to reforms.

CarryOn3Despite his occasional lapse in confidence and teen angst at being ‘The Chosen One’ – Harry always handled the job admirably. He thwarted Voldermort time and again, not to mention he regularly leads Gryffindor to victory both on the Quidditch field and off. Magic was an absolute blessing for Harry, in a way that it heartbreaking ISN’T for Simon Snow. His magic is volatile, and untrustworthy at the best of times. While he is the most powerful magician in the world, he has great difficulties controlling it – even simple cleaning spells are hard for him. The book deals a lot with how magic is at once his escape from his mundane life – yet at the same time a burden: from destiny, from the feeling of inadequacy, from never quite belonging. In a sense, I feel that Simon Snow is a more effective teen protagonist for all these qualities. I also really liked how the ending approached his magic!

CarryOn4I loved the protagonists in Harry Potter, with their bravery and absolute ability to stand by their values and beliefs. They also adored magic in every sense, we never saw a magical child who wanted to be a Muggle or a Squib instead (WHY WOULD THEY?) Yet, in Agatha, we saw another side to the coin. Magic meant that she was burdened for something great, when she just wanted to chill at home with her friends doing manicures and watching movies. Magic meant that she was embroiled in all of Simon’s life threatening adventures, and played second fiddle to her own life. While I can’t say I liked Agatha (I just can’t understand anyone that doesn’t WANT magic) – I appreciated her POV in the same way I appreciated The Rest of Us Just Lives Here.

I will also say that the magic system in this world is AWESOME. It’s based on the power of words, where common phrases such as “Stand Your Ground!”, or significant quotes like “Out, Out, damned Spots!” have magical powers – and serve as incantations instead of Latin gibberish. To see the magicians in this world clearly wield their words had me in GLEE.

Overall, I think Rainbow Rowell did a fantastic job in creating characters and relationships I quickly cared about. I had the benefit of knowing some of these characters from Fangirl, so by the time I read this, they felt like old friends. The book is a bit of wish fulfilment on what COULD have been in Harry Potter or other similar tales. One that focused on both the Chosen One and the friends or enemies that surrounds him. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s BETTER than Harry Potter, but I will say that it’s a nice way to relive the experience from a slightly different perspective. Obviously, if you’re a fan of Fangirl or HP, you should be ALL OVER THIS.

Rating Report
Plot
Characters
Writing
Pacing
World-building
Romance
Impact
Overall: 3.9
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Aentee

Aentee

I'm Aentee, a 20-something lover of books and shiny things. By day, I attempt to prescribe books to all the patients in my optometry clinic. By night, I read books, watch TV, and spend way too much time on twitter.

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  1. says

    Super review, Aentee! I loved Carry On too, and agree with all of your points! (Well, I didn’t enjoy the magic system as much – it was quite simple, but I like how it’s put in the background to showcase the character development.) Either way, it was definitely a refreshing take featuring many of the common tropes we see in books today.

    Although the beginning really dragged for me ehehe. ^^;
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  2. says

    I need to pick this one up soon, Aentee! You’ve got me really excited to read this. I wasn’t a fan of the Simon + Baz parts in Fangirl, but I think I’m going to enjoy their own book. Penelope sounds like a queen! I need to meet this girl asap! And wohoo the magic system seems badass!
    I can’t wait now! :)
    Lovely review!
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  3. says

    I loooved this one and I really love how you broke this down in terms of the differences between Carry On and Harry Potter and specifically how this explores aspects of the Harry Potter universe that Rowling never thought to (because the story she had to tell was just different). Fantastic review–so glad you enjoyed this one as much as I did! :)
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  4. says

    Oooh! Darn you! I was not going to even bother with this, because I thought I would never be interested in Harry Potter fanfiction! But now you have me intrigued! I mean, all the twists Rowell made with the series sound absolutely amazing, and I need more diverse relationships in my novels.

    I might have to pick this one up! I’m guessing I’ll need to read Fangirl first?

  5. says

    I knew that when it was announced that Rainbow was coming out with Carry On, I would love it. I haven’t even read it yet, but I’m a 100% sure this title will not let me down. Simon and Baz were my favorite characters in Fangirl, so I’m so excited to see them in their own world, being the focal point and not the background of a story. & girl Penelope sounds so dope, I can’t wait until I pick this up!
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  6. says

    AHHH I’M WORRIED. XD Like I want to read it because magic and diversity are amazing and some of my favourite things. But. I didn’t really like Cassandra Clare and Holly Black’s “harry potter reimagined”. It just didn’t work for me and I felt like it was a constant stream of deja vu. So as much as I loved Fangirl, I’m just not sure if I’d love this one or be annoyed?!?! AHHHH IT’S A QUANDARY.
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  7. says

    I am not sure about reading this one yet because I have only read the first three books in the HP series and I don’t want to come across any spoilers. But I am glad to know you were able to enjoy this one quite a lot as well, just like Fangirl! I am looking forward to getting to it all the more.

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  8. says

    I haven’t heard too much about Carry On, but it sounds super interesting! Especially the magic system idea – yay for literary allusions :D I love books that don’t take a firm stance on good/evil black/white but rather blur the line between. I’m not entirely sure this is the right book for me, but it does sound amazing, so I’ll definitely have to keep it in mind. Thanks so much for sharing!
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  9. says

    Sigh, I must be one of the only ones in the world that did not like Fangirl, and based skimmed over the Simon Snow parts. When I heard about Carry Out being turned into a full length novel, I just couldn’t understand it. Your review however, changes this view slightly. While I can never stop loving Harry Potter, I do understand it when people mention the lack of diversity at times. It’s cool to see that Carry On addresses some of these issues so well.

    Don’t hate me but I’m probably still not going to read this one heh *pulls on collar*. Lovely review, I love the graphics!
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  10. says

    I have never read Harry Potter, and more than likely never will – I have tried to read it three times, and I have failed every single time.

    But THIS book, I could so GET into this one! I freaking love everything that you have listed, and I am so thankful that someone is going to bend the “chosen one” story for once.
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  11. says

    This is an awesome review Aentee! I’m reading it at the moment and it’s definitely multi layered and complex in terms of the characters and how they interact. I particularly love Baz and his point of view! Looking forward to reading the rest of it now, especially with your review on the magic system and how everything is so gray.
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