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When the figure steps forward, I recognize him at once. Tall. Black hair swept back from his forehead. Lips curled up in a sneer. . . I know that face as well as my own. Baz.
If you’re a fan of Rainbow Rowell’s books, particularly her novel titled Fangirl, then you’ll love Carry On. Published in 2015, this 517-paged tale is a take on the fictional characters within Cath’s world featured in Fangirl. However, that being said, readers are perfectly able to read this book on its own as this YA novel is, in its own right, its own story! The book itself is split into four sections or ‘books’ with each one as epic as the other making the entire novel a definition page turner…
The story is presented to the reader through the first-person narrative of a selection of characters, particularly from the perspective of the two main characters Simon Snow and Baz Pitch. Right from the get-go, the magical nature of the story is established and whilst there are many similarities to the Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling—such as Simon being similar to Harry Potter, the Mage to Dumbledore, Penny to Hermione and Baz being almost similar to Draco Malfoy. That being said, Carry On is its own story.
The magic within Rowell’s novel is cleverly taken not from Latin or some made up language as most magical works of fiction use, but in fact from every day terms, which is explained within the book.
“Words are very powerful,” Miss Possibelf said during our first Magic Words lesson. No one else was paying attention; she wasn’t saying anything they didn’t already know. But I was trying to commit it all to memory. “And they become more powerful,” she went on, “the more that they are said and read and written, in specific, consistent combinations. The key to casting a spell is tapping into that power. Not just saying the words but summoning their meaning”. (Page 107)
The use of such every day words, phrases, and lyrics as spells really reflects on how powerful words truly are—something which many including myself overlook on a daily basis. The familiarity of such phrases used as well makes the use of magic throughout the story enjoyable to read and even humorous at times, what with one of the spells the Mage casts being the lyrics from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
The first section of the book mostly follows Simon Snow’s character as he returns to the magical school of Watford School of Magicks. This is where the similarities to the Harry Potter novels really come into play with the reader discovering that this Hogwarts-like school, which is also located in Britain, houses and teaches many young Wizards and Witches the essentials of magic. Here, the school is run by the Mage and he has a close relationship to Simon as he does to most of his students.
As for our big bad in the story, he attacks Simon when he’s returning to Watford. The Insidious Humdrum, our big bad, there isn’t much to say without really spoiling the book, but lets just take a moment now to congratulate Rowell on this character and the ‘connection’ it had to Simon within the novel. From the moment he returns, the Mage is persistent that Simon be elsewhere. Whilst this could have been looked upon as the behaviour of one determined to protect him, I couldn’t help but feel slightly suspicious about the Mage’s determination to have Simon moved away from the school. It seemed too much like trying to get him out of the picture, I suppose. However, the surprise twist revealed at the end of the novel is baffling.
Ultimately, the best parts of the book begin with the end of the first section:
When the figure steps forward, I recognize him at once. Tall. Black hair swept back from his forehead. Lips curled up in a sneer. . . I know that face as well as my own. Baz. I stand up too quickly, knocking my chair over. Across the room, a mug falls to the floor and shatters – I glance over and see that Agatha is standing, too. Baz steps towards us. Baz.
After so long, so long, of reading about Baz, hearing of him from Simon’s point of view through a series of flashbacks and Simon’s thoughts, we finally get to meet him in person and I was not disappointed at all. The anticipation which built up during the first section of Carry On was followed, not by disappointment, but with relief and excitement. Baz’s absence from the story really did make it feel as though there was a gap in it, which could only be and was satisfyingly filled with his arrival/return. From here on, the story doesn’t change exactly, but there is a different air to it as we see how Simon and Baz interact with one another in more descriptive detail. Whilst other relationships occur within the story, it is the relationship between the characters of Simon Snow and Baz Pitch which really is the focal point. One thing which I loved reading about was how their relationship formed—from how they were destined to be roommates, were forced to be civil within their room and then reluctantly so grew closer and eventually became an item. Rowell’s way or formatting the book so that we were able to read about this development from both their perspectives made it all the more intriguing.
The two other major characters which I will mention briefly in this review is both Penny and Agatha—Simon’s best friend and girlfriend. Personally, whilst I was pleased with what became of Agatha at the end of the novel, I did favour Penny over her throughout the entirety of the story. Both characters contributed well to the plot and I enjoyed their interactions with one another and Simon and Baz alike!
For fear of spoiling too much of the plot, I won’t go into detail about much else involved within the story line, but I will say that each chapter… each page… had me hooked and I was unable to put the book down, despite being on holiday at the time I read it. Personally, the end of the book caused confusion among other emotions as I have no idea how to feel about the events which occurred, particularly to Simon. Any readers out there who has read the book will know what I am talking about as I don’t want to mention specifics because it is quite a big moment and spoiler. However, the ending was one which I felt was fitting and I was overall pleased with how the story finished!
Naturally though, there were a few let downs. Again, this does not mean that I liked the book any less, or even hated the fact these occurred at all, but simply that these could be used as negatives when debating how good the book is. This isn’t particularly a criticism as such because as I said the anticipation which built up throughout book one was very well done and reading about Baz from Simon’s point of view really made me eager to meet him… But, having to wait so long did get to me at times whilst reading. Also, the ambiguous nature of the Mage is something which, although was well written, really made me suspicious of his character a lot quicker than I would have. For this reason, I suppose it wasn’t too much of a surprise when part of his true self was revealed towards the end of the book. Really, those are the only two points which really stand out to me whilst I was reading the book for the first time as it was, generally, an amazing read!