This is going to be one of those reviews where even giving it four stars feels like I may as well be panning it, because I didn’t instantly want to elope forever with Carry On unlike, it seems, freaking everyone else. And because everyone has already expounded at length as to why they love it, I can’t really add anything new to that end. So here we are — a four-star review full of gripes. Mea culpa.
But really, this book was really good! And it was really good despite — admittedly — lowered expectations, because the Simon Snow parts of Fangirl were my least favorite parts of Fangirl. But I knew that Rainbow Rowell would come through, as she always does — and please feel free to look at my prior reviews if you do not believe that I have a deep love for this author — so I swallowed my misgivings and trusted her to craft a memorable, touching story with all of her trademark wit and empathy. In that, she 100% delivered.
And yet, in other ways, despite being about magicians, Carry On somehow didn’t quite contain the magic that I experienced from other Rowell books. As I put it elsewhere before, I simply just didn’t feel ALL THE FEELS. I chalk this up to two main weaknesses that kind of took me out of the completely immersive reading experience: first, the pacing of the book felt totally off, and second, I predicted just about every reveal and turn of the plot. I am not usually someone who does this, or tries to do this; if it’s incredibly obvious I can’t help myself, but generally I don’t look for clues and read too much into foreshadowing. I prefer to let the author take me on the ride. In Carry On, I found certain twists to be so clearly telegraphed that I was frustrated with the characters for not picking up on them ahead of time. I’m not saying I’m some kind of super genius who understood what no one else could, but I am saying that I think Rowell might have unintentionally dumbed down the characters to service the plot. Needless to say, that doesn’t make for an optimal reading experience.
Back to the point about the pacing: I am not the first to say that the story dragged a bit until Baz appeared. This is 100% true, because Baz is the best character in this book and Simon is probably the weakest. I have to admit that I didn’t quite get Simon? He’s the Chosen One, not necessarily that great at controlling his magic and not the most prolific thinker, and is obsessed with Baz — first out of hatred and then out of (SPOILER ALERT!) love. And… that’s kind of it? Baz and Penny and Agatha fairly leap off the page in comparison; they are so well-defined and motivated and relate-able, in as much as vampires and witches and wizards are relate-able. But maybe that’s the point of Simon. He’s a bit of a cipher and his destiny is to save the world for other people, so he is defined by his relationships to other people. Which, come to think of it, is fairly revolutionary for a male main character, so you go, Rainbow Rowell!
In closing, OBVIOUSLY read this book. Every Rowell is a lovely reading experience. I was hoping to fall in love with Carry On, but I’m just in like with it and that’s okay. There are plenty of other people forming a line at the altar for it.