Carry On by Rainbow Rowell | Goodreads
This novel really seems to have divided reviewers.
I genuinely don’t understand the people who are angry at how much this book imitates Harry Potter, seeming to have missed the glaringly huge and obvious memo that it is a Harry Potter pastiche. No, it’s not no-holds barred, out and out adult satire in the form of Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody. What it is, clearly, blatantly, is an affectionate homage to Drarry.
Simon and Basil first appear in Rowell’s debut Fangirl (CLUE’S IN THE NAME, GUYS), which is YA romance-pastiche of the life of a nerdy Potterhead. The protagonist is obsessed with a book series called ‘The Simon Snow Series’, and spends her time writing ‘Snowbaz’ fanfiction about an every-man teenage boarding-school wizard named Simon (who also happens to be the Chosen One), and his snobby, possibly evil arch nemesis, named Basil.
Come on. Use your brains, guys.
I assume the only reason Rowell vaguely denies this deliberate resemblance is a combination of copyright law, and to protect her professional reputation. Fanfiction authors have a negative enough reputation as it is (just think of the backlash E L James got when people twigged 50 Shades was a Twilight AU), so it’s fair enough that Rowell claims Carry On has nothing to do with Harry Potter. But come on guys, much of culture’s greatest offerings are homages to previous works, so why can’t we all just enjoy this book for what it is?
What it is, is a FREAKING BRILLIANT and SUPER ADORABLE, AND SERIOUSLY HOT romance. And mate, you don’t have to be a Drarry shipper. I’m not; infact I’ve never read a Drarry fanfic in my life.
Unless you count the Draco Dormiens Trilogy and actually, you know what the more that I think about it–
The two boys are absolutely their own well drawn and striking personalities, and they are fantastic. I devoured this in two days, desperate to relieve the tension by getting to the inevitable kiss scene, and boy, it did not disappoint.
TOTALLY UNSHOCKING REVEAL THAT BASIL IS A SEXY VAMPIRE. EMOTIONAL BREAKDOWN. EVERYTHING WAS ON FIRE. (no literally everything is on fire) DRAMATIC REVEAL OF EMOTIONS AND SNOGGING OF VAMPIRE WITHIN THE FLAMES OF A BURNING DOWN FOREST.
I died. This book took all of the cheesiest fanfiction romance tropes, and made them work so… SO WELL.
It gives a great and the horrible crushing emotions of pining away for someone you really like. I was completely swept away by the sexual tension butterflies. It also doesn’t shy away from the socially internalised shame of teenage sexual awakenings, and openly discusses things like masturbation. Hooray! All in all, Snowbaz were DEEPLY WHOLESOME AND PRECIOUS.
The book’s biggest weakness is that there really isn’t much depth to this world. That we don’t really know what’s going on in magical affairs across Britain is reasonable, what isn’t, is that the school itself is so poorly defined. Apart from the magical gates and a goatshed, what does it look like? Apart from the jam scones at breakfast, what actually goes on within its walls? And if it’s a running gag in fandom that Hogwarts can’t even name the forty students which apparently exist in Harry’s year, my goodness, Watford’s School of Magicks is albeit empty.
It leaves the background to every scene feeling like cardboard cutouts, without any depth. If the romance of Snowbaz weren’t so compelling, this would have been a serious problem.
Perhaps this stemmed from the fact that the basic outline of Carry On’s wizard-Britain was borrowed wholesale from Rowling. Presumably Rowell didn’t want stray too hard into actual fanfiction, and since any attempt to characterise a magical British boarding school just is going to owe too much to Rowling at this point, she decided to avoid the problem by skipping on world building altogether. Secondly, its clear that the romance, plus Simon’s personal relationship to the Humdrum, is the real plot of the novel — not the creation of a wider world. Sadly however, had there been more world-building, the Humdrum story might have gained the element of seriousness and dread which it definitely lacked. Without being introduced to the wider world and characters which are at stake, we can’t really care about them.
It’s also SO refreshing to have an American author write British characters and dialogue so convincingly, without clumsy overuse of inaccurate slang, or awkward give-away Americanisms. In their review, Foz Meadows expresses disappointment with the lingo, but I have to respectfully disagree (the first, and probably only time, I will ever disagree with something Foz says). I thought it was almost bang on for a bunch of slightly nostalgically written middle class English kids who went to school sometime within the last two decades (just like in Harry Potter), since hello everybody, I am an example of one of those myself.
One thing which did frustrate me, and which to a certain extent came out in the Harry Potter novels as well, is the excessive focus on the super wealthy. Sure, big rich historic land owning families like the Basils and the Malfoys are fascinating The fact that Simon is somehow an outsider because he’s from a poor background, or “the North” is not only effed-up in the novel, but quite a good portrayal of how effed-up Britain is in real life. I really loved that the Mage was explicitly about breaking the back of class snobbery and class control which controlled the magical establishment, because this seemed like a nod to the rigid class and blood relations which dictated the world of Harry Potter. Far too many novels and TV shows not only completely gloss over the fact that upper class families like Basil’s are a tiny, tiny minority by giving them vastly disproportionate screen time, but actually glamourise their elitism and snobbery as though they’re a diverting, harmless piece of nostalgia. In fact, still to this day, Britain’s 1% do hold vastly disproportionate wealth, educational opportunities, careers and influence, and class snobbery is still rampant. More often than not the 1% are the exact same aristocratic families who have had this power and money for many hundreds of years. Social mobility in the UK is shitter than it is in every other highly developed nation. That’s not funny. It shouldn’t make you think, ah, the British aristocracy, how harmless and romantic and amusing. It should make you think, FUCK THIS.
Dear Americans: Stop. Glamorising. The British class system.
Okay, tangential rant over.
It was also really great to see a British Asian character front and centre in a fantasy novel. Firstly, there are far too many fantasies in which any non-white characters are rare far off visitors from ‘the Southern kingdoms’ (or some such other nonsense), and if they do appear, they’re mostly black rather than any other ethnic minorities. Secondly, despite Rowling being self-made Queen of the socially liberal tumblerites on Twitter, the original Harry Potter books were shockingly, and highly unrealistically, white. I’m from the UK, and I can tell you that even in Hogwart’s measly student population of 280, that only Dean Thomas, the Patels, Lee Jordan, Angelina Johnson and Cho Chang were explicitly flagged as non-white is not a believable sample of real life British kids.
Penelope was AWESOME. She was smart, sparky, flawed, she completely kicked butt, and I have to be honest, she was the most well drawn and realistic character in the whole novel. Shout out also to her mum and Basil’s aunt, who both leapt off the page as Awesome Ladies. I only wish we could have seen Basil’s mum in real life, who sounded like an Epic Scary AF Babe. In my mind, she was the powerful iron will of McGonagall, crossed with the wildness of Elpheba, the sex appeal of Prue Halliwell, and a whole dose of Walburga Black’s class prejudice.
Why, oh why, do so many people hate Agatha? Because she tries to get with both the hot guys, thereby getting in the middle of the precious protag couple? Oh no, how terrible. Smells like internalised misogyny to me. Because she doesn’t leap at the chance to be part of a dangerous escapade which could get her killed? Well then I think some people have missed the point. Her entire story is a celebration of how you don’t have to be who people effing want you to be, and if you don’t like how your destiny has been decided for you, you have the right to walk away. I am so sick of these Lion King narratives where people try to make their own futures, but the narrative won’t allow it, and somehow they’re a selfish coward for trying to be their own man, because dESstiNy!!!!!! Simba!!!! yOU hAvE dISSapoiNTed me!!!
I think Agatha portrays the insecurities of a girl who’s trying to prove herself very well, and in that way, her story is the mirror image of Simon’s. I do wish her friendship with Penelope had been better developed, however, to prevent her from feeling like a fourth wheel at the end.
Sadly, I found myself a bit let down by the ending. It’s a bit of a downer due to Simon’s trauma, and I didn’t appreciate Basil taking the mick out of him for losing his magic at all. I thought it was highly callous and innapropriate. Secondly, RIP Bi Simon. Can we talk about how Simon went from being “in love” with Agatha to being told by his therapist that since he’s got a boner for Basil now, oh, he’s actually gay, lol, all those feelings of over three years were fake then? I could have bought this. It could have been a really important representation of the issues of performative masculinity and heteronormativity. However, that would have required a greater exploration of Simon’s feelings for Agatha, and whether his relationship with the It Girl was just a symptom of his construction of his role of traditional masculine archetype of ‘the Chosen One.’ As it was, there was nothing to tell us his attraction, care and actual verbally expressed love for her wasn’t in anyway genuine. Instead, by the end of the book it just sort of gets…. forgotten.
Gay representation, whoooo! But that wasn’t how I read it: my instinctive reaction was bisexual erasure, BOO.
I’m super keen to here other LGBT readers’ opinions on this potential issue! I am open to having my mind changed. Did you guys think Simon’s coming out to himself was handled well or not?
Snowbaz also didn’t have a final kiss, and that annoyed me because mate, I’m a fangirl, what the heck do you think I’m here for??!!
Final decision: FOUR STARS!!!! The romance was fantastic, but the world just wasn’t strong enough to get that final star prize.
PS> I definitely get to give myself points for getting three different fandom references in to one post title… right??!