Well, shit. I think I’ve lost the ability to read books that aren’t in e-book format. It’s taking me forever to get through Stone of Farewell, which isn’t even a difficult read! It’s a bit dense, and there are lots and lots of strange names, but The Dragonbone Chair was the same way (in fact, it was much slower than SoF, and I sped through that. I’ve been a bit busy at work, so most of the reading I’ve done has been in little snatches (meaning during breaks, on the toilet, and lying in the dark on my phone right before falling asleep). Of course, since the copy of SoF that I have is an old library copy, I decided to read a different book on my phone that would be easier to carry around. I was going to read Clockwork Prince, which I’ve been meaning to read for forever, but all the library’s e-book copies were checked out, so I had to go on the holds list. You know what wasn’t on the holds list?
The featured book: Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell, which I’ve already read, but felt like reading again.
Format I read it in: E-book, the BEST format.
The premise: Simon Snow, a.k.a. The Chosen One, is the terribly magically-inept adopted son of The Mage, the headmaster of a magical boarding school called Watford, which, until recent years, was extremely elitist and would only admit magicians with more powerful magical abilities, which meant that the majority of the students were from old, wealthy families… until the Mage came along and pushed through a bunch of reforms that opened up admissions to all students, so long as they possessed at least an ounce of magic.
As the novel opens, Simon is heading back to Watford for his eighth and final school year. A mysterious threat called the Insidious Humdrum, an entity that sucks up magic from the places in which it appears, is terrorizing the magical population of England. The old magical families are on the edge of open revolt against the Mage, who they see as having crossed a line/on a mission to rid them of all their power and influence. Simon’s roommate, Tyrannus Basilton “Baz” Grimm-Pitch, the heir to the most powerful magical family in England, has gone missing, and Simon suspects he is off scheming against the Mage (and by default Simon himself) somewhere. He attempts to enlist the help of his best friend, the talented and whip-smart Penelope “Penny” Bunce, to find Baz, but she dismisses his concerns as imaginary, a result of his years-long fixation with Baz, and insists that they should focus on researching the bigger problem, the Insidious Humdrum, instead. Meanwhile, Simon’s long-term but lukewarm relationship with his girlfriend Agatha Wellbelove, the most beautiful girl at Watford, is starting to disintegrate.
My thoughts: Before I picked up this book, I had it described to me as “Harry Potter, with extra emphasis on Harry and Draco”, or “Harry Potter fanfiction”. Carry On was probably partly inspired by Harry Potter, but calling it Harry Potter fanfiction or a parody of Harry Potter isn’t doing it justice. Rainbow Rowell, like J.K. Rowling, utilizes many Chosen One tropes and sets up her characters in the traditional roles they would play in a Chosen One-type story, but then, unlike J.K., she goes and turns all those tropes on their heads. The characters start to rebel against their storybook destinies, and the funny thing is that the other characters try to put them back on-course, with varying degrees of success.
One example is Agatha, who gets sick and tired of playing the “supportive love interest” role and tries to spend more time with Baz, whom she sees as a bad boy villain type/a way to break away from the “good girl” identity she’s been stuck with. Baz, who [SPOILERS] is actually a pretty shitty villain (because he’s not really a villain), rejects her advances because 1) he sees them as a bored good girl’s attempt to experiment/flirt with danger and 2) another reason which I shall not mention to save you from a huge spoiler. The only character who sticks to the Hermione/extremely capable female sidekick role is Penny, who I will assume is different from your typical main characters in a Chosen One-type story because she’s a non-stereotypical character of color (half Indian, half white); she and Simon actually have a brief exchange about her ethnic background and his assumptions upon meeting her.
I loved the set-up of this book. The first 7 books in the series (which don’t exist) are referenced as if we the readers actually read all 7 books and know what the characters are talking about. We haven’t, but we do know what they’re talking about because most of us are familiar with Chosen One tropes and Harry Potter. It’s similar to how Galaxy Quest gets to spend just 15 or so minutes setting up its story because most viewers are at least somewhat familiar with Star Trek and will get what it’s parodying. But then it goes off and starts to tell its own wonderful, original, immensely entertaining story. Carry On is the same way; it pokes fun at its “source material” by subtly pointing out things that are illogical (such as the magical world’s avoidance of technology) and fixing some of them, and at the same time, it gets us to care about its characters and their story, independent of the “source material”. 1/3 of the way through, I was no longer thinking of/comparing Simon, Penny, Agatha, and Baz to Harry, Hermione, Ginny, Draco, etc. and just wanted to know more about Simon and Baz’s pasts and what would happen to them by the end of the book.
Rating: 5/5. I wish[MASSIVE SPOILER] that Simon got to learn his parents’ identities the way we do, but he never does. However, it makes sense why he wouldn’t, so I can’t take off stars for it. I really hope Rainbow Rowell considers a sequel in the future.