Carry On – Rainbow Rowell
Being a Chosen One is not all it’s cracked up to be. Simon Snow might be the most powerful wizard of his generation, but he has precious little control over that magic and it places him right in the middle of a brewing war between his mentor the Mage and the elitist old guard of magicians. He is supposed to defeat the nebulous nemesis of magic in Great Britain, but can barely escape their encounters with his life. As his last year at Watford School of Magicks begins, even Simon’s obnoxious roommate Baz lets him down by failing to even turn up and conclude their seven years of mutual tension. One way or another, this year will be the end – of more than Simon could ever imagine.
If you read Rowell’s novel Fangirl you’ll recognise the characters and possibly be confused by the meta-within-meta mindbend, but don’t think of this as fictional fiction or fictional fanfiction, this is an entirely separate story. It’s an entry to the enormous canon of magic school and Chosen One stories and so will probably remind you of Harry Potter. There are deliberate references, actually, some of them very amusing. I have such mixed feelings about Carry On, though! It was a fast, enjoyable read and I loved the magic system – drawing on the inherent power in popular phrases, with all the tricky intonation and evolution that involves, it’s delicious – but the plot was a bit messy and the ending didn’t satisfy me at all. (For spoilery details, see the paragraph below.) Much as I liked Simon and Penny, it was Agatha I found most interesting.
SPOILERS: The story was really centred around Simon and Baz’s evolving relationship, but while it is brilliant to see an LGBT romance like this and the chemistry between them was strong, the emotional balance was off. Baz kept claiming to be desperately in love with Simon but hardly ever showed it in his behaviour, while Simon had to keep explaining his own feelings and proving how much he cared, even right at the end. It didn’t feel healthy. I was also uncomfortable with how Simon’s sexuality was handled. Obviously he doesn’t have to figure out everything at once, but I would have liked the possibility of bisexuality to be at least referenced rather than it being presented as a binary between gay and straight. Lucy was another troubling character – she came back to tell her story to her son, who REALLY needed to hear it, but was not heard. And it kind of just ends there? Lucy deserved a lot better than that.