“Carry On” by New York Times bestselling author Rainbow Rowell is a coming-of-age tale at its core that explores the topics you’d find most confusing as a teenager: school, love, loss, destiny and, of course, magic.
Simon Snow, also known as the Chosen One, can’t always properly wield a wand. Penelope is his best friend and he wouldn’t be alive without her. Agatha is his ex-girlfriend who just wants to be normal. Baz is his probably-a-vampire roommate who hates him.
All are in their final year at Watford School of Magicks where, years before they were students, a war began that threatened to take away magic for good. It’s a war, of course, that only the Chosen One can end.
A year after its initial release, I finally jumped into Rowell’s first fantasy endeavor and it quickly became clear to me why it instantly became a bestseller.
Simon Snow is no stranger to Rowell. He first made an appearance in her 2013 novel “Fangirl” where he was the main character in a series of fiction novels written by Gemma T. Leslie. These novels and Simon Snow are the subject of the fanfiction Cath (the main character of “Fangirl”) writes.
In her author’s note, Rowell said once she finished “Fangirl” and let go of Cath and her boyfriend Levi, she couldn’t let go of Simon. “Carry On” was then born and is an entity entirely in its own.
Though separate from “Fangirl,” “Carry On” isn’t completely separate from another very popular series of books about an orphaned boy wizard who is the only one who can end a war.
In “Fangirl,” the Simon Snow books were a sort of parody of the Harry Potter books and thus it is almost reflexive to begin comparing “Carry On” to “Harry Potter” once you begin reading.
There were parallels, sure, but Rowell helps you brush those aside and I very quickly stopped thinking of Simon as Harry, Penelope as a cross between Ron and Hermione and Baz as Draco. I began seeing them as the very different, individualistic characters they are.
Plot and storyline aside – which I adored, don’t get me wrong – these characters were what I ultimately fell in love with.
Writing realistic and relatable characters is what Rowell does best in her contemporary fiction, but managing to do that in a fantasy setting? Complete success.
I didn’t have to suspend my disbelief once when learning about Simon, Penelope, Agatha and Baz and the very magical lives they lead. I felt like these were characters I could run into at school or at work, magic and all.
On top of some of Rowell’s best characters to date, the magic system in “Carry On” was explained well and the power of words within that system made the writer in me swoon. Rowell expertly drove home the message that language is power.
“Carry On” is a book I will read again and again – I know this for certain – and the best way I can explain how I feel after reading it is to borrow a line from my favorite character, Baz.
“Aleister Crowley, I’m living a charmed life.”