Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Simon Snow never asked to be the Chosen One. In fact, the rest of the world doesn’t seem particularly thrilled that he’s the Chosen One either – he can barely make his wand work properly, and he’s as liable to cause massive explosions as he is to pull a rabbit out of a hat. To make matters worse, his girlfriend just broke up with him, his mentor can barely look him in the eye, his roommate and nemesis Baz is nowhere to be found – oh, and there’s a giant magic-eating monster on the loose that likes to wear Simon’s face.
Simon would really like to take out his frustrations on someone, but usually that someone would be Baz, and Baz hasn’t bothered showing up to school this year. And sure, Baz is evil and a vampire and everything, but if Simon can’t even hold on to one nemesis, what good is he as a hero?
Simon Snow may well be the worse Chosen One ever chosen.
I was never much of a Drarry shiper, but by goodness if this book didn’t pull me straight back into my awkward middle school years. And then made it better.
I don’t mean to imply that Carry On is a piece of fanfiction: from what I can tell the characters and setting are completely original creations. But Carry On has an undeniable link to fanfiction; after all, the characters of Simon Snow and Basilton Pitch started out as fictional-characters-within-a-fictional-world in Fangirl, where the protagonist Cath writes fanfiction of her favourite book series, the Simon Snow novels. And in Fangirl, it really wasn’t hard to see where the inspiration for Simon Snow was coming from: the Harry Potter series, and the large fan community dedicated to pushing Harry and his rival Draco into romantic settings. So in short, Carry On is a novel inspired by fictional fanfiction of a series of fictional books, themselves inspired by a real fan community writing real fanfiction about real books.
Carry On expands the world of Simon Snow, and while the similarities with Harry Potter remain, it becomes harder and harder to call him an expy: Carry On seems to draw more from the typical tropes surrounding the Chosen One narrative than from one series in particular, and it’s not like sources of inspiration are lacking. And while Simon and Baz’s relationship keeps hints of the old Drarry dynamics it was originally drawing from, it too becomes something entirely different by the end.
I thoroughly enjoyed Carry On. The plot is engaging, the characters witty and believable, and the romance as sweet as you would expect from a Rainbow Rowell novel. The world-building is nice enough, though a bit derivative, and the concept of Normals – or rather, their words – as sources of magic was fun and inventive. And while the climax is frankly a little anti-climactic, the characters more than make up for it.
Because you see, this isn’t really just the story of Simon Snow. It is, of course, but it’s also the story of those who helped or impeeded him along the way: girls who don’t like magic and girls who do, snooty traditionalists, rough-and-tumble vampires, kind shepherds who cry too much, ambitious revolutionnaries, tenacious ghosts, and one particularly infuriating roommate who always knows exactly where you want to be kissed.
This isn’t a high fantasy romance; it’s a Rainbow Rowell coming-of-age story, only with magic and monsters. And it’s sweet, and warm, and just the kind of book you want to read all cuddled up in a blanket next to the fire on a cold night. And possibly relive your teenage years scrolling through fanfiction.net in search of that one story that would give you all the feels you wanted – and then some.