Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
This book was a personal purchase.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“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.
Carry On – The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story – but far, far more monsters.”
Oh my God, I think this book will turn out to be my biggest disappointment of the year. Now, some of that is probably my fault–I absolutely adored Fangirl and had really high expectations for this book. But it’s not just that my own mindset affected my reading of this novel, unfortunately. I really think that Rowell made a major mistake in writing this novel.
Think that’s a bit harsh? Let me explain…
The thing that you should know is that the author has said that this is not the Simon Snow of Fangirl, either the one written by the fictional author Gemma T. Leslie or the fanfic version written by the (also fictional) Cath. Rowell said that this is her own take on Simon Snow. So what this means is that Rowell is writing a fanfic of a fictional fiction series that was created to exist within a work of fiction. And then on top of that, she names her fanfic after the fictional fanfic in her fictional world, but says that it’s not the same fanfic at all.
This is where I start breaking out the ibuprofen.
I think the most major issue that I saw in this book is that there’s no way readers can really identify with these characters. In the Simon Snow universe, students go to school for eight years, and this novel is set during the eighth year. Readers haven’t had the experience of getting to know the characters through years of stories. Granted, readers of Fangirl have some idea of what has gone before, but snippets and bits and pieces are no replacement for the experience of reading a fully fleshed-out story. With this book, we’re effectively coming into the story in the last 12% or so, and the novel suffers for it.
On top of that, I didn’t find the plot very interesting. I think the author was so invested in setting up the relationship between Simon and Baz that the thing that is supposed to be the main focus, the Humdrum, gets lost in the teen angst. This is something that Rowling fell victim to with Harry Potter, to a certain extent, but here it’s compressed into one novel and therefore stands out even more starkly.
And I hate to say it, but that relationship didn’t work well either, and I think that’s also due to coming into the story so late. I understand that Rowell might want to take her characters in the same direction that her fictional heroine Cath did. And I have no objection to writing fanfic with a homosexual bent (called “slash”, for those not familiar with fanfiction), as long as it’s well done. Believe me, one of the best fanfics I’ve ever read was a slashfic with Frodo and Sam from Lord of the Rings. But what happens between Simon and Baz doesn’t have that backstory to draw on to make it believable, and what we see of them during the first half of the novel didn’t make me believe that they’d get together.
I can’t completely tear down this novel, though, since the author did have some interesting ideas buried in with the other stuff. The last quarter of the book was pretty good, but then again, that’s where all the action is. I wish it was enough to redeem the book, but I had to wade through too many pages to get to that point.
So… lackluster plot, a relationship that I couldn’t invest in, and an absence of background story doom this novel to being Rowell’s flop. Every author gets one in their writing lifetime, so I suppose we should be glad she got hers out of the way and will hopefully be back on her game with her next project.