“How do you keep a promise like that? To take care of a child when the child is the greatest power you know… And what does it mean to take care of power? Do you use it? Conserve it? Keep it out of the wrong hands?”
Simon Snow may be the Chosen One, but he isn’t very good at it. Even though he’s the most powerful magician the World of Mages has ever seen, Simon can’t seem to direct or control his power. But that has never stopped the Mage, leader of the Coven and Headmaster of Watford School of Magicks, from looking to Simon to fight to prevent the eradication of Magick. Nor has it ever prevented the Insidious Humdrum, a creature that is slowly devouring Britain’s magickal atmosphere, from sending his minions to try to kill Simon. Now entering his final year at Watford, Simon should be focusing on the political tensions with the Old Families who oppose the Mage’s leadership, and the inevitable final battle with the Insidious Humdrum. But instead, all he can think about is that fact that his roommate and nemesis, T. Basilton Pitch, better known as Baz, has not returned to school, and is probably out there somewhere, plotting to kill him. His best friend Penny can’t stand Simon’s obsession with Baz, and when he looks at his girlfriend, Agatha, all he can think about is that fact that he saw her in the Wavering Wood with Baz at the end of last year. Some Chosen One!
In 2013’s Fangirl, we met Simon Snow and his nemesis and roommate, Baz. But Simon and Baz were fictional characters within the story, the stars of Gemma T. Leslie’s Simon Snow series, the books on which Fangirl’s protagonist, Cath, based her fan fiction. Carry On spins off from Fangirl, telling Simon and Baz’s story as they enter their final year at Watford School of Magicks. However, despite sharing a title with Cath’s epic fan fic, Carry On is not Cath’s rendition of the finale of the Simon Snow series, and nor is it Gemma T. Leslie’s canonical conclusion. Rather, Rainbow Rowell has described it in her author’s note as “my take on a character I couldn’t get out of my head. It’s my take on this kind of character, and this kind of journey. It was a way for me to give Simon and Baz, only half-imagined in Fangirl, the story I felt I owed them.” Carry On fleshes out Cath’s fandom, certainly, but it also stands alone. There’s no need to read Fangirl to enjoy Carry On, or vice versa.
Rowell is starting out at the end of what would have ostensibly been an eight book series in Fangirl’s world. As such, she has a bit of catching up to do in terms of world-building and characterization. As a result, this five hundred page novel contains plenty of exposition, but that isn’t likely to bother those who find world-building delicious. Rowell has created a playful magical system that depends on the power of language, and also relies on Normals to continue to feed it and keep it alive. The puns, word play, and literary references that creep into Carry On as a result of the magic system are delightful.
In her previous works, Rowell is known for writing beautiful friendships, and heartfelt romances, and Carry On shows that she can do so equally well in realistic, magic realistic, or full out fantastic settings. And although Rowell is riffing on familiar themes and tropes from Chosen One stories, there is a pleasing complexity to her take. The bad guys are never completely bad, and the good guys aren’t always good. There is also the tremendous satisfaction of queer characters who are not subtext, but canon. In Gemma T. Leslie’s Simon Snow, Baz and Simon fought over Agatha. In Rainbow Rowell’s rendition, she retains Cath’s choice to have Baz and Simon confront their feelings for one another. The two are drawn back together when Simon receives a message that was meant for Baz, one that makes him feel sympathy for his long-time enemy in a way he never thought possible. The result is a story that is at once playful, romantic, and adventurous.
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