Simon Snow is the chosen one, the most powerful mage to have ever been born, destined to combat the greatest threat magic has ever known. His roomate and nemesis at Watford, the school of magic, is Tyrannus Basilton “Baz” Pitch. They have spent the entirety of their years at Watford scheming against each other. Everything has built into this final year at school, when their inevitable and final confrontation will come to pass. One will win, one will die.
(This review contains mild spoilers – skip to the “buy from Amazon” link above if you don’t want to know more.)
Most of you know that Simon/Baz’s story dates back to Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, a deservedly much-beloved book that worked on all levels. It was a delight and one of a select list of books that I’ll re-read. It was my introduction to Rainbow and put her at the top of my autobuy list. Her books are refreshing and optimistic, populated with multidimensional and likable characters. Her books are immensely imaginative and for the most part, defy genre conventions but most closely hew to romance. She is a risk taker, routinely attempting story constructs that shouldn’t work (ex. creepy IT guy consistently invades privacy, romance ensues) but manages to pull it out (with the possible exception of Landline).
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I was thrilled to get my copy of Carry On in the mail.
Check. Check. Check. Check. Check.
Simon and Baz are presented in brief snippets in Fangirl where we learn that Baz is desperately and self-loathingly in love with Simon. And in these brief glimpses, Rainbow manages to pack quite the smolder:
“I’ve never wanted you around,” Simon said, trying to push past his roommate.
“Point.” Baz moved to block the door. “That was true. Until you decided that you always wanted me around – that life is just a hollow shell of itself unless you know my heart is beating somewhere in the very local vicinity.”
“Have I decided that?”
“Maybe it was me who decided. Never Mind. Same difference.”
Simon took a deep, obviously unnerved, breath.
“Simon, are you unnerved?”
“Aleister almighty, I never thought I’d see the day.”
Finally, in Carry On, we get to have an entire book devoted to these two. YESSSSS.
Reluctantly I finished last night. And despite my total fangirling of Rainbow Rowell, I’m … I’m not in love with Carry On. Maybe expectations were too high? Maybe she wrote a great book, it just wasn’t the book I was hoping for?
Carry On lovingly and humorously tweaks so many classic Fantasy/magic/chosen one tropes that as an homage to Harry Potter et al. it’s a lot of fun. There are magical creatures called numpties (I defy you not to smile while saying the word, numpties). There’s an explicit call out to the Bechdel Test. A great moment where Baz is spewing backstory under the guise of asking questions and Penny (another beloved character) says, “Do we really have to do this by Socratic method?” It’s a lively fantasy novel which also works as a light tweaking of fantasy novels.
However readers of Fangirl (ahem…me) are here for Simon and Baz. Baz, sadly, doesn’t appear on the scene until page 150. Although when he does, he makes a strong case for a spot on the best-characters list.
I am never telling anyone I was kidnapped.
Kidnapped. And by fucking numpties, no less.
I feel 15 again, like I’m going to give in if he gets too close – kiss him or bite him. The only reason I got through that year was that I couldn’t decide which of those options would finally put me out of my misery.
That’s it. I’m going to have to spell this imbecile away from me. My last deed will be to save Simon Snow’s life, and my whole family will be ashamed.
He sneers and arches eyebrows a lot. He’s fantastic.
Instead what I got was a lovely fantasy novel with lots of backstory, too many characters, and not nearly enough Baz and Simon. While they think of each other often, they’re rarely together. Little time is given for the snarling and smoldering before circumstance brings Simon to Baz’s gothic home over the holidays and a bit of a holiday snogg.
But the inciting incident leading to snogging felt unearned, and the post-snog fallout … never came. Simon kisses his nemesis, decides they’re boyfriends, and accepts the possibility that he may be gay with a shrug. On to the Humdrum!
I refuse to speak a negative word about Rainbow Rowell. This book is a wonderful well-written fantasy. It’s just not the blazing, biting, fire-spitting romance I was looking for. I wanted Simon and Baz together for most of the book, not in fits and spurts. I wanted them antagonizing each other, bristling, snarling, yearning, kissing, clawing.
Apparently I need to go write some Carry On fan fiction. Until then…
Simon Snow is still going to die kissing me.
Just not today.