Book Review: Carry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher Information: Macmillan | October 08, 2015
Format: Paperback; First Edition
Genre/s: Young Adult, Contemporary, Fantasy
Page Count: 528
Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Simon Snow returns for his final year at Watford, a magical school in England. During this time, Simon learns to accept his reality of being the most powerful magician alive. As the Chosen One, he’s set to defeat the Insidious Humdrum, a magic-eating monster that has been running around England. He meets a surprising ally in Basilton Grimm-Pitch, his roommate and antagonist, as they uncover the mysteries of Watford and Baz’ deceased mother, the previous headmistress of Watford, and truth behind the Insidious Humdrum.
SETTING AND CONCEPT
This is a cute love story but also a book about desire, the consequence of it, and the power of simply letting go.
The setting is a common boarding school in England trope with various magic folk – numpties, dragons, etc. But the story does incorporate modern language, and items (like the internet), it makes it more relatable.
THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS
Carry On is a very easy read with simple language use. But because the book also showcases multiple point-of-views (POVs), it may be hard to follow. It can also feel like reading recaps in the first episodes of sequel seasons of any story-driven TV series. This is because it started in the middle of Simon’s story, where some context was already laid out in Rowell’s previous work.
The central arc is of Simon’s battle with the Humdrum. The secondary arc is of the war between the Old Families (Baz’s Family included) and The Mage. The tertiary arc is the mystery behind the death of Natasha Grimm-Pitch (Baz’s mom). These arcs tie together at one point but plenty are left unsaid and unanswered in the arcs apart from the central arc. (Did they target the Headmistress or the babies in the nursery? Does Simon figure out who his parents are eventually? Does he not experience any sense of loss from not knowing who they are?) The different POVs gives the reader snippets of what is happening to the people involved in these arcs.
The book features a refreshing take on the whole “Chosen One” trope – Simon being a mess of a magician despite being the most powerful one alive. I often wonder how a chosen one is chosen. This book gives us an angle that makes a lot of sense – that he has a lot of power means there’s a point in the universe that lost a lot of power as well.
How people make magic in this world is not new to me. The whole putting magic into your words is reminiscent of Lark’s magic in Amy Harmon’s The Bird and the Sword. It places magic as a skill but also ties it with words and phrases that are common. It makes sense and feels closer and more relatable than how fiction usually feels.
ISSUES AND CONCERNS
My only issue with the book is how some details seem so unnecessary. The mystery of Natasha Grimm-Pitch felt very staged and mostly a token to reach from [Simon+Baz = Enemies] to [Simon+Baz = Friends, and so on]. This is a disservice to Natasha’s character like she died only to bring her son closer to his long-time crush.
I also would have done without Agatha (Simon’s ex-girlfriend and Penelope’s other friend). She seemed to only be present to stir some drama in the group’s dynamic and doesn’t service the plot to move forward at all. (I would say she’s a bottleneck – but maybe that was the point.)
As far as the other arcs go, there’s not a lot of closure in this book. But in spite of these shortcomings, Carry On is still an entertaining and refreshing book to read. (Especially to those who love YA and Magic.)
THE FINAL SCORE
3.5 out of 5 stars. Carry On is a personal favorite of mine, but I did find that there were elements that were lacking and some characters and sub-plots that strayed too far from the central arc (and it is quite unnecessary in my opinion). While we had closure from the central arc, there wasn’t a lot of closure with the other arcs.