First and foremost I will say that this is the first Rainbow Rowell novel I have read: I know she’s been pretty popular around here the past few years and always meant to pick up one of her books, but just never did for some reason. Until my friend gave me Carry On as a gift, thinking that it looked very Lisa™. And you know what? She was right! I loved this book! I mean, it’s a little corny at times, don’t get me wrong, but it’s got just the right amount of fun balanced with seriousness. Also having not read any books by Rowell before, I was not aware until after I finished and read the author’s note about the context/background of the characters coming from one of her previous novels, Fangirl, so in this instance I had no previous notions, ideas, or opinions going into it.
Carry On is centered on a teenage boy named Simon, orphaned at a young age, but later discovered to be an exceptionally powerful wizard/mage, and taken in by The Mage, who is the leader of the magical world, but also the headmaster of a private magical boarding school for magical children. Simon is considered to be “the chosen one” to save the magical world from an insidious being sucking magic out of the world, known as The Humdrum. But it’s not so simple a story in that there are magical politics based on race (ie, vampires, pixies, etc), social and economic class, and of course, Simon’s roommate named Baz, who has been Simon’s nemesis since they first began at school, based on the notion that during the class war and war against the humdrum brewing in the magical world, Simon or Baz would one day need to fight and kill each other. But, you know, you spend a lot of time with someone and develop sympathy, and hey maybe one day one of them needs the help of the other with an issue which ends up tying into the whole overarching story of the humdrum and saving the magical world and… well, you see where this is going?
I can say that some of the twists and turns took me for a loop, though a few of them I did call pretty early on in the novel and every new piece of information just confirmed my theories. But! That’s not necessarily a bad thing: I wasn’t disappointed at all by not being surprised at certain points. In fact, I kept tingling like, “ooooh I’ve got a feeling about this!” before everything came together. Because while I do love surprises, sometimes they seem thrown in there as if an author is going “aha! I fooled you!” even though there wasn’t really anything leading up to it to begin with. And when that happens I get annoyed. But what I’m trying to say here is that there were some fun surprises, but I didn’t feel like Rowell was trying to trick me at any point. There is an awareness here that really works. Because the whole thing plays out like an homage to Harry Potter (it’s hard to not make comparisons) or like those other YA “chosen one” stories, but with a little playfulness there that doesn’t per say rip on the genre, but definitely plays around with it in a way. In particular with the faith in authority figures like that of the Mage, as well as the fact that these different subcultures of magical beings don’t need to be so strict and separate from the normal world: it can also come into play with spells, references, and the like.
The most important thing about Carry On, however, is how much I enjoyed the characters. And okay, the drawings of Baz and Simon on the cover reminded me of Ezra Miller and American Ice Dancer (and all -round cutie) Joe Johnson respectively, so that was in my mind the whole time and definitely helped paint a nice picture.But apart from them, we also have Simon’s best friend Penelope and her lively family, kicking ass all in their own ways. I also liked the point of view presented by Simon’s girlfriend and classmate, Agatha, who is expected to follow a certain path in life that she desperately wants to escape.
But of course, our two mains in Simon and Baz on whom the story rotates, really bring the whole thing to life: their perceived destiny and also wanting to escape it like Agatha, but in a different way as they want to fulfill their roles and stay in the magical world, but also don’t want doing so to be their end. And now we are getting into mild spoiler territory, but I know some might say that their relationship really follows a common fanfic trope of enemies to friends to lovers. But what’s wrong with that? Frankly, I love it. And you know, I see this in particular with a lot of young women/girls who are attracted to women: we are pit against one another or don’t consider that our fascination with other women is actual attraction so then it turns into a strange fixation and competitiveness. At least, in my experience I’ve seen this. And so, while the relationship between Simon and Baz may seem a little hokey, I get it. You don’t want to feel what you feel so it turns to antagonizing and competition, and just add to that the political issues due to the boys’ familial allegiances and what do you get? Years of focusing on one another but misplacing those feelings or believing them to be something they are not. So what I’m getting at here in many many unnecessary words is that I like how this was handled. They clearly care about one another and notice one another’s presence as they’ve influenced each others’ lives for so many years, so this really works for me.
But lets’ be real: this novel may not be everyone’s cup of tea, as with anything. But it was pretty fantastic for me, and the only nitpicks I personally have weren’t enough to ever really pull me out of being so transfixed by it throughout reading. Maybe the climactic resolution seemed a little quick, and all the political issues seemed to resolve pretty simply, and I got tired of Baz being described as “sneering” constantly but ultimately, I think the biggest thing for me was that I just wanted more. I want to know more about this world and the families and the history and the characters. I’ve heard a lot of people in the past say about books that they love, that the worst part was when it ended, and you know what? That’s what I’m feeling right now.