It was beyond my wildest dreams that Carry On by Rainbow Rowell would ever come to be. The story is a fictional one that takes place within a fictional world. It began as a story within a story. The fictional Simon Snow books factor heavily into Rowell’s novel Fangirl, where the protagonist Cath obsesses over the series with devotion, going so far as to write and publish online elaborate fanfiction entitled Carry On. And here we are.
Carry On is pretty meta. I went into it expecting a fun ride, but Rowell really fleshed this story out. Carry On stands completely on its own, apart from Fangirl. This novel is a delight to read. The book is essentially a parody of every Chosen One story that’s ever been written. It takes the trope and turns it on its head. The world is one in which words, words themselves, carry real power: magic spells are phrases, lyrics, bits of poetry that have had an impact on the public consciousness. For example, Up, up and away is used to levitate an object or Clean as a whistle gets rid of messes. There is also a particularly intense moment involving a nursery rhyme and a dragon. The mechanics of the World of Mages is fascinating and innovative. It was fun to discover the ways in which language could translate into spellcraft.
There is a lot that separates Carry On from your typical wizard story. This is not your mother’s magic school. The Mage, essentially our Dumbledore character, the wise school leader, is pretty reckless and sends Simon into some pretty upsetting situations. Also our hero is rather hapless. He is ridiculously bad at being a hero: super powerful but absolutely no control. The character’s language is a lot more relaxed: more swearing, more direct speech. These are teenagers, after all. The story also more directly acknowledges the “normal world” and its inevitable bleed through into the magical one (i.e., wizards with cell phones).
Baz and Simon’s rivalry starts the way most sworn enemy rivalries do, but the way Rowell develops their relationship is literally everything to me. Simon & Baz 4 Ever. Their quips are wonderful, startling, and engaging. Each section is told from a different character’s point of view, which in the case of Simon and Baz was so excellent. Baz is so funny. I loved reading his sections. The whole novel reads simultaneously very tongue in cheek and also quite earnest.
There is an entire cast of characters besides Simon and Baz, but the boys are without a doubt the stars of the show. Penelope, essentially the Hermione of the story, is such a badass. I want to be Penelope. She loves magic so much. Her dry wit and quick thinking are a boon to the story (as well as having saved Simon’s life many times over). Agatha left a lot to be desired, but I think that was her primary function. She’s a magician with the good sense to know that magic isn’t worth constantly risking her own life. She provides a good contrast for all of the magic hungry characters. It may be sensible, but it’s not quite as compelling. I’ll stick with Simon, Penny, and Baz, thank you! Ahh, Baz… ❤
The book was a blast to read and I will one hundred percent do it again. It feels like you are going on their adventure. It has a lot of immediacy. I did call one of the larger plot twists fairly early on, pretty much as soon as the character Lucy was introduced, but it didn’t take anything away for me. If anything, it made me proud that I’d picked up on it.
The inside flap of the book describes Carry On as having “as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.” I think that is the best explanation of the book. If you like magicians, monsters, and sincere, lovely, and romantic relationship development, this is the book for you.