Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015.
Ok, so I know I’m late to the Carry On party, but maybe those of you who read it can shed some light on why it was such a disappointment to me. But first, a little background:
I read Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl about 2 years ago, and I really enjoyed it. I liked everything about it, including the Simon Snow fanfiction parts. Naturally, I was very excited when I heard that she was writing an actual Simon Snow book – for those of you who are unfamiliar, Fangirl is about a girl who writes fanfiction about the Simon Snow books, which are veiled parallels to Harry Potter. During Fangirl, the last Simon Snow book is about to come out, which is called Carry On, which is the book that Rainbow Rowell now actually wrote. Yes, it’s all very meta and confusing.
I loved Fangirl partly because of my experience with Harry Potter. I am not one of those people who didn’t like Carry On because of the obvious Harry Potter parallels – I was expecting the Harry Potter parallels, because, well, that was kinda the point, wasn’t it? I actually think Rainbow Rowell did a good job of making Carry On an obvious Potter parallel while still creating an original and fresh story. (However, some people are also saying that Carry On does a magnificent job of subverting fantasy tropes – I disagree completely. It’s fanfiction that does not subvert, it fantasizes. If you want subversive fantasy, check out Lev Grossman’s The Magicians). So why didn’t I like it? Here are the reasons (spoilers ahead):
- The writing: I like Rainbow Rowell’s writing style. It’s natural and funny and modern. However, there were 2 things about Carry On that didn’t work for me:
- Multiple points of view: It takes skill to switch POVs as rapidly as she did in this book, especially when she does it within the same scene. But the voices of the characters were all so similar that I had to pause to remind myself who was narrating several times. She tried to alter Nicodemus’s style a bit, and Lucy’s parts were different because she was from the past…but everyone else just sounded too similar. That being said, Baz was by far the best-written character. His parts all read strongly and naturally to me.
- The attempt at British-ness: I couldn’t for the life of me read this as a British book, and whenever a British term would come up, it would seem jarring and unnatural (Rainbow Rowell is American). I can’t say exactly why linguistically because I am not British. Did anyone else feel this? Any Brits out there agree, or am I just crazy?
- The beginning: The first 100 pages were info dump. I was bored. This is probably the result of trying to write the hypothetical last book in a series without any prior set-up.
- The Simon/Baz romance: The build-up to this was spot-on. After the info dump was over, I was engrossed by the book and I did not want to put it down. The tension between Baz and Simon was palpable, and then with Agatha in the mix…it was great! But after the tension was broken and Simon kissed Baz, I totally stopped caring. Simon’s struggle to understand his sexuality was woefully underdeveloped. Getting together with Baz was so sudden and out-of-the-blue, it’s hard to believe that so little time was spent developing the relationship after the initial snog. I suppose they had to deal with saving the world and there wasn’t much time to reflect on this; but as a reader, it left me confused and broke off the emotional connection I had with their relationship.
- The Mage: His back story had so much potential! His character ended up being the most intriguing in the book, and there definitely wasn’t enough development of that. I wanted more – the emotional impact at the end would have been much better had his story been played up. I literally didn’t care that he died, and I should have!
- Not caring: It wasn’t just the Mage I didn’t care about at the end: it was Ebb, Simon, Penny, Agatha…everyone except Baz. The only part that made me feel the appropriate feels was the scene where Baz tells his mother in the catacombs he is going to be ok. That was lovely. I literally didn’t give a shit about anyone else.
In conclusion, I think my negativity stems from the fact that I had such high expectations for it. I liked both of the other Rainbow Rowell books I’ve read (Fangirl and Eleanor & Park), and so many people were raving about Carry On. I wanted to like it so badly. 2/5 stars