by Rainbow Rowell
Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.
That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.
Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here — it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.
This was so much fun!
I stayed away from Carry On for a while because I was being a snob. I love fanfiction – I still enjoy reading it and I used to write it, too – but as a huge Harry Potter fan I was initially kind of annoyed that Rainbow Rowell was making money off Rowling’s idea.
Then I got over myself, because it’s not like Rowling invented the ‘Chosen One’ story or wizarding schools, and while Carry On is very much a response to Harry Potter, it still feels like its own thing.
(Also, unlike Harry Potter, Carry On isn’t afraid to be queer as hell.)
Written as the final book in a series that doesn’t really exist, Carry On is surprisingly easy to follow and, when we’re told what Simon’s already been through, it doesn’t feel like an info-dump, which is quite a skill considering we’ve missed out on around seven years of adventures.
Simon Snow is the chosen one, plucked from foster care by The Mage when he was 11 to fight the Humdrum, an entity that is essentially an absence of magic terrorising the magical world.
Simon is the first student from the Normal world to attend the Watford School of Magic which was previously run by a headmistress who believed the school should teach only the most elite. The Mage took over the school after she was killed in a vampire attack in which her son, Baz (who just so happens to be Simon’s worst enemy and, unfortunately, roommate), was turned into a vampire himself.
Simon and Baz have never seen eye-to-eye, in fact they hate each other, but when Baz doesn’t show up at the start of the school year and Simon receives a visit from his mother’s ghost, he knows something isn’t quite right. And that’s all I’m going to say, because this novel is so much more enjoyable if you let the story unfold for you one piece at a time.
I’ve read Rainbow Rowell before – her adult novel Attachments and her short story in My True Love Gave to Me – and didn’t love either of them (although I didn’t dislike them either) so I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of this novel. If nothing else, I knew Rowell’s writing style is incredibly readable and, even though this book is on the chunkier side for a YA novel, I flew through it and ended up really enjoying it.
One of the things I was most nervous about was Rowell, an American, writing about British teenagers, not because I think authors should only write about people of their own nationality – that’s ridiculous – but because I think teenagers in particular can often be written badly, even by authors who do share their nationality. Thankfully the British slang Rowell used never felt out of place; Simon and his friends all sounded British, and not in a Hugh Grant kind of way either.
Considering there’s so much we don’t know about this world I thought Rowell did an excellent job of explaining everything, so much so that this world felt real to me. It’s very heavily inspired by Harry Potter, but rather than feeling like a rip-off it feels like a response to it. While Hogwarts is staffed by House Elves who seem to do all the cooking and cleaning for no apparent pay, Simon tells us how the kids at the Watford School of Magic serve their own meals and do their own laundry. Where Harry himself is our narrator throughout his series, albeit in third person, Carry On is told from multiple first person perspectives so that we get to know Baz, Simon’s friends and even some of his teachers as much as get to know Simon.
It was little tweaks like this that made this story so refreshing, as well as how utterly and unapologetically queer it is.
I ended up loving Simon and Baz’s relationship a lot more than I expected to. I love a couple with good banter and these two have plenty, but there are also moments of genuine warmth and tenderness that made the romance in this book so lovely to read as well as so validating.
J.K. Rowling told us Dumbledore is gay after she wrote the series and then continued not to write him as gay in the Fantastic Beasts films, whereas in Carry On Baz says the words ‘I’m gay’, and it makes a difference. Not everyone uses labels, and that’s fine, but when authors don’t use labels and also don’t make their characters’ potential non-heterosexuality clear in some other way, it doesn’t have the same kind of impact that saying the words outright does.
I loved this book. There’s very little I want to say about it in a review because I think the real joy of this book is reading it for yourself and finding all those tips of the hat to Harry Potter alongside a much more inclusive, much more queer, wizarding world.