By Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015
Simon Snow is the Chosen One, destined to save the World of Mages from the Insidious Humdrum and the brewing war between the elitist old families and the Mage who runs Watford school. If only Simon could get his explosive level of power under control. And maybe figure out how to make his girlfriend happy. And uncover what's up with Baz, his vampire roommate, the rival with whom he’s been nursing an obsessive mutual enmity since they were eleven.
The world of Carry On started as the subject of fanfiction in another Rainbow Rowell book, Fangirl, and the vestigially fanfic-y quality of the setup makes the characters a little difficult to connect with in their own right at first (what's with Harry Potter analogue characters always being named Simon, anyway?). Rowling doesn’t have a monopoly on stories about learning magic, of course, but some of the details here are distractingly specific.
Both the characters and world do eventually assert their uniqueness, and it's a beautiful thing when they do. Every conflict, personal or political, is explored on all sides with extraordinary finesse. The status-quo of the World of Mages is prejudicial and wrong, yet the loudest and therefore most influential revolutionary is half-mad and quick to jump to tactics that do more harm than good. There are good people and good intentions to be found on all sides of the fence, including in the camp that simply wants to run far away.
We get to hear what it’s like to be a chosen one waiting to die, trying to minimize the collateral damage, and yet privately clinging to the hope of a happily ever after he can’t even think about starting to build yet. We hear from the love interest who’d rather be at home away from magic and looming war, living her own story in the now, rather than continuing to be used in evil plot after evil plot as hostage or incentive for the Chosen One, on the promise of a chance to be his happy ending, if he ever gets there. And yet, she cares for him. We hear from the brilliant sidekick who throws herself into every adventure and never looks back. We hear from the generation past, who thought they were doing the right thing. We hear from the guy born into the elitist old money culture who knows that he’s growing into more than one thing his family hates, but the love of family remains, sweet and complicated and unresolvable.
Wrap all of that in a sincerely believable, Rainbow Rowell-grade forbidden romance, and Carry On is a masterpiece both as genre commentary and as a story to stand alone, in equal measure.
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