“Carry On” sweeps readers off their feet

Colleen Kelly

Rainbow Rowell has proven to be an author versatile in style and story. Her hit novels “Eleanor & Park” and “Fangirl” have become instant classics in the Young Adult genre, and she did not disappoint with her latest novel “Carry On.” If you have not yet read any Rowell, treat yourself.

“Carry On” follows the story of Simon Snow, a senior at the magical boarding school Watford as he seeks out a method to defeating his arch nemesis: The Insidious Humdrum, a being bent on sucking all of the magic out of the world. In his quest, though, he finds himself developing feelings for his antagonistic and longtime rival and roommate Baz.

“Carry On” is Rowell’s first attempt at writing fantasy, and she does so stunningly. Clocking in at a hefty 500 pages, this novel tells its an epic story worthy of a seven-book series. While the plot sounds like a rip off of the acclaimed “Harry Potter” series, that is not the case at all. Rowell does draw inspiration from “Harry Potter,” as well as numerous other popular fantasy books, but her story is 100 percent her own.

“Carry On” is rife with meta humor, often poking fun at more ridiculous tropes and themes prevalent in the fantasy genre. The Simon and Baz relationship is a direct reference and riff on the Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy relationship fans have debated about over the years, but the backstory, complex dynamic and burgeoning romance between Simon and Baz remains completely unique in and of itself despite its tongue in cheek nature toward the fandom.

Simon as a main character was compelling. He has a level of power previously unheard of, but no control over it. He is both friendly with everyone, but only actually friends with one or two people. He is the golden boy we root for through thick and thin, and we delight his watching him stumble his way toward victory. Simon is the embodiment of every “chosen one” we have ever encountered in literature, and that was so much fun to see turned on its head.

What Rowell does so well here is take archetypal characters such as The Chosen One, The Villain and The Mentor and twist them into something unexpected.

This novel was equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking. For much of the novel, we are in Simon’s point of view as he attempts to juggle the expectations he has as The Chosen One and the difficult change in his relationship with Baz (how exactly does one go from mortal enemies to love interests?).

For the rest of the novel, we are in Baz’s wonderfully snarky point of view as he tries to solve his mother’s murder with Simon’s help. When these two aren’t trying to break the case, they’re struggling to communicate their conflicted feelings toward each other as only teenagers can. Other points of view from relatives and classmates help move the plot along, making sure the reader has a holistic view of the Insidious Humdrum’s destruction and the magical war on the horizon.

Aside from the stellar romance, it was the magic system in this story that won me over. Simon and Baz are mages, and they perform spells not by reciting Latin phrases passed down over the years like in “Harry Potter,” but by using everyday speech. Song titles, idioms, nursery rhymes and catch phrases all commonly spoken every day can be used as spells, and that was unbelievably cool. The more a phrase is used, the more power it has behind it. Bookworms, historians and bilingual individuals would have a serious competitive edge in this magical system.

My only two critiques for this novel are its narration and ending. While I personally enjoy multiple points of view, I didn’t always feel that so many narrators were necessary. Yes, they kept us well informed and offered insights Simon and Baz couldn’t, but I was so invested in their romance and mystery solving that I felt the story would have worked just as well being all about them. The extra narration was fun, but not entirely necessary.

The ending was a mixed bag for me. While I highly enjoyed the ride getting their, certain choices were made in character arch resolution that didn’t make a lot of sense to me. However, life is messy, and Rowell’s writing choices reflect that beautifully, so I certainly didn’t hate the ending.

So while I would have liked to see the narrative voices more streamlined and the ending a bit neater, “Carry On” was still an outstanding standalone novel. The romance was unbelievably sweet and well written, the magic system well thought out and the overall plot compelling and worthy of a sequel. You don’t have to be an avid fan of fantasy to enjoy this. Anybody with an appreciation of romantic-comedy with a bit of drama can fall in love with this novel, too.

Verdict: 4.5/5 stars