Carry On by Rainbow Rowell / My Rating: ★★★ 1/2
One sentence summary: Simon Snow is the most powerful magician in the world but he isn’t very good at magic, and is enemies with his roommate, Baz, but he isn’t very good at staying enemies.
Just when you think you’re having a scene without Simon, he drops in to remind you that everyone else is a supporting character in his catastrophe.
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Plot: I enjoyed this book, and it was entertaining enough that I spent two full days reading it, but…it felt like it was lacking something. I had high expectations for this book, knowing that it was very heavily inspired by Harry Potter. I didn’t expect it to be Harry Potter, of course, but there was just something about this novel, even without the comparison, that was just so lacking in color. I felt that the magical universe could have been stronger, and the plot felt jumbled at times. I often felt that the characters were going through the motions of their mission but not getting very much accomplished. Mostly, I felt as if the plot of this book was wrestling the characters for my attention, and in the end I was far more invested in the relationship between Simon and his roommate Baz than I was in the overarching story. I was very aware of the statements and criticisms the author was trying to make with the “chosen one” narrative…but a little too aware, like I could hear what the author wanted me to get out of it, rather than gleaning it for myself. Still, I did enjoy this book and I thought it was fun, but it didn’t dazzle me.
Characters: I really liked Simon and Baz, and I very much enjoyed their romance. The two of them and Simon’s best friend, Penelope, were the best part of this book. I definitely loved Baz the most, and loved his darkness and old-bloodedness, but also the fact that he was a major softie when it came to Simon. Simon himself could be a bit on the annoying side, but it was an important part of him, an endearing part of him, and I loved his eagerness and determination and earnestness. Penelope was basically the “Hermione” of the book, and I ended up enjoying her nearly as much as Simon and Baz. Agatha, Simon’s ex girlfriend, was perhaps the most blatant “statement” of this book, and while I liked the unusual spin taken with her, she was probably my least favorite character, personality and interest-wise. Lastly, the headmaster of their magic school, the Mage, was what I thought to be a brilliant representation of the blind trust we put into wise, elderly characters, and I love the twist Rowell put on him.
Writing: My biggest gripe with this book was the writing style. I didn’t think it was poorly written, but it was done mostly in sentences parsed out as paragraphs, which made it feel choppy. Most importantly, I really wasn’t a fan of the first person narration, and particularly did not enjoy the way the point of view rotated between characters. I’m really not a fan of chapters rotating between different characters in the first person point of view, and I’m of the opinion that if an author is going to do that, the character voices should be extremely distinct, which I didn’t particularly find. I think I would have enjoyed reading it much more had it been done in third person (and the reason I feel so strongly about this is because there are excerpts about these characters in Rainbow Rowell’s book Fangirl* done in third person, which I found much more enjoyable to read, stylistically).
Was I satisfied? Not spectacularly, but while I didn’t love this book, I wasn’t disappointed. I’d read this author before and had a sense of her storytelling and knew that despite the hype that surrounds this book, I might not come out loving it as much as others do. I did enjoy this book a lot, and I really liked the romance and Simon and Baz. It was a fun, different kind of read.
*Fangirl is not a necessary read to understand this book. I haven’t read it, and only sought it out in a bookstore to read the Simon/Baz excerpts.