We are now onto the second book in the year of big books! This is one I have been anticipating since last June when I read first read a book called Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I want to be honest with you. Everyone loves Rowell and so my expectations were high when I read that book. But I beg the internet not to stone me when I say I think the book is just okay. The writing was fine and there was nothing spectacular about it, the characters were pretty cliche to an annoying scale, and the story itself was kind of basic. I enjoyed the read in terms of light reading on vacation, but let’s say I wasn’t in a hurry to read any more fiction from her.
That being said, what appealed to me most about the book was the fan-fiction written inside of it based off of a fictional wizarding book series about a boy named Simon Snow (a purposefully obvious re-imagining of Harry Potter). As I read Fangirl, I found myself enjoying the fan-fic within the story more than the story itself. It seemed to be a rehashing of the Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy paring but done quite well. And to be honest, I had been (and still am) craving good LGBT stories. Having heard about Rowell’s book Carry On and that it was based on these Simon Snow characters as interpreted by the character in Fangirl, I knew that it would be a title I would need to read soon. After realizing it was over 500 pages, I added it to my 2017 list.
I wasn’t sure how I wanted to split this up but there are just so many chapters (and some are literally sentences long) so it would be very tedious and dull to write a blog per chapter. Grouping a set of chapters will make this process much easier for me and less taxing for you. Win win.
Coming off of The Cider House Rules, it is the short chapters that spark the first big difference I notice with these two books. Cider House‘s chapters spanned for sometimes 30 to 70 pages long and the type was small and the plot dense. Carry On is a not that type of book. The chapters range from short to super short. In normal circumstances I would say this is a welcomed change because I find I get through books faster when they have shorter chapters. But we shall see.
It comes as no surprise to me that this book borrows heavily from the Harry Potter series, a fact that will probably leave you staying far away from this book friend. To be honest, I don’t know how I feel about this. The book also reminds me a lot of a book I started to read but for the love of God could not make it through called The Magicians by Lev Grossman, also known as an adult Potter. The two worlds meld together and there are some things I like and some I don’t care for. I will tackle the specifics as I see them. From my understanding which comes from studying Potter for years and reading the series several times, to hearing out why people dislike the Potter series, it seems Carry On is taking on the small things J.K. Rowling failed to accomplish and is addressing them full on. And while this won’t elevate the book over Potter in my opinion, it gains a lot of respect from me as a reader.
Difference number 1. They say “fuck.” Like, in the very first chapter. Like real kids. When I was a sophomore in high school and had a moral obligation not to swear, my friends dared me to say the word out loud. So I said it to appease them, and I remember this strange feeling of rebelliousness coming over me. I kind of liked saying the word and how it clicked off my tongue. Ever since, I’ve held the word in reverence but never said it much myself until I was well out of college. I know that may sound strange to some and weird but…I am being honest. It is nice to see kids talking more like kids.
Simon is a more edgy protagonist than Harry in most ways. There is something to him that makes him feel more defined and interesting but I can’t put my finger on it just yet. It has less to do with who Simon is and more to do with who Harry is. While I love Harry, he is a boring protagonist. What are his interests? Quidditch. That is literally it. What were his interests at the Dursley’s? Nothing is ever mentioned. I get that this is a typical trope in fantasy and that it allows the reader to see themselves through the protagonist’s eyes but I’m just not buying it. Harry is dull. I’m hoping the book will continue to make it more clear as to why I find Simon more interesting soon because if it doesn’t, it will put Simon in a much different light. Simon is not the only character to resemble a Potter character. The Mage is Dumbledore, Ebb is Hagrid, and the Humdrum is Voldemort (side note, what a strange name for a villain). I’m kind of loving how obvious the Potter influence is.
There is an entire chapter dedicated to Simon listing off reasons why he loves Wattford, the fictional magic school he attends. He names things like yummy scones (I’m doing a detox right now so scones sounds pretty amazing) and his friend Penelope. Right away, it is clear this book values diversity, another improvement on Potter. Again, not a fault, but something that lacked in those books. From now on, when referencing these “fixes” I will refer to it as “Sins of the Uncle,” the Uncle being Potter. Carry On seems to be attempted to fix these sins. Anyway, the book acknowledges Indian culture and makes a point to do so. I like it.
Even more Sins of the Uncle, the book references the root of spells. It talks about how they come from different languages like French and Latin. Something I really liked is this passage where Simon is thinking about a gate around Wattford that has an old ritual on it for security purposes. Everyone does what the gate says, but the Mage says they should not take advice from a gate just as one should not take advice from his throw pillows. Well played Mage, well played.
The book, while written by an American author, is still very much British. Like, in your face British. Don’t forget the British. I’m bloody knackered….
The first three chapters are in the point of view of Simon but chapter 4 switches to his friend Penelope. One quote stood out to me in this chapter and I believe it was said by Penelope. She says:
Let the Mage…and everyone else fight the wars they seem to have their hearts set on.
Again with the Sins of the Uncle, this passage rings to me as a jab at Dumbledore. The quote directly questions authority in a way that is never questioned in Potter. Sure, Harry questions Dumbledore in the final book (a plot thread which I find to be among the most powerful in all of the seven books) but rather Dumbledore, while alive, is seen as this white knight who can do no wrong. If you take a close look at the books, his actions are questionable. Like, why not tell Harry the truth right away instead of prolonging it and therefore keeping Harry from making rash decisions because he doesn’t have all the facts? As Snape says in book 7, Harry has been trained like a pig for slaughter. He is a trained monkey for the war that Dumbledore is fighting. I know there is more to it than that but this is a common debate that we are not going to continue. If you do want to continue it, might I suggest the podcast “Alohomora.”
We get a chapter dedicated to some rules about the universe and Simon, like how he can’t talk to anyone during the summer (Order of the Phoenix anyone?) and how roommates must act. There are no houses at Wattford, something I will get into later. Instead there are roommates. Everyone is assigned to a roommate in their first year and if you hurt your roommate, you will either be banned from the school or, if you are a child, your hands will be frozen for a long period of time, a fate I would never wish upon anyone because that sucks! I am interested to learn more about this roommate thing. I’m hoping the book will give us more background.
Then we come to chapter 6 and I’m just thinking to myself…WHAT? It is super short (criminally short) and I literally have gained nothing from it. I hate chapters like these. I’m not unfamiliar with how books work and so it is obvious this thing we are supposed to call a chapter is going to come back later. It is just unnecessarily cryptic and I hate when books do this.
Then we get another Simon chapter and once again, more Sins of the Uncle. The Mage has told Simon literally everything, unlike Dumbledore. The chapter was interesting because it was the Mage basically telling Simon that he would be safer, as would the students at Wattford, if Simon left and did not attend his final year. But Simon, understandably, gets pissed off and literally begins smoking at the ears. Apparently this is a thing Simon does. He isn’t good with magic spells but he tends to “heat up” quickly. The Mage recognizes Simon’s anger and quickly tries to calm him down and even offers to get him a nurse. I have to say, I am liking the dynamic between these two characters after just reading one chapter. Rowell seems to be telling it as it is, which is – the Mage is not a good person. He tries to do good things, but in the end he is influenced by politics and cowardice. It is refreshing to see. Not that I dislike Dumbledore. I freaking love Dumbledore. But again with the Sins of the Uncle, Potter could have used some of this earlier on and I am liking that we get it right away in this book.
Then another freaking Lucy chapter. You are killing me book. Really killing me. And it is just as cryptic. Seriously, what am I supposed to gain from this? Just, take it out! Grrrr.
The last chapter is a Simon P.O.V and we learn some more about him, like how the kid really loves butter. He eats sticks of it. I mean…I’m just gonna place this picture here and it should speak for itself.
There are a lot of cool details in this chapter. Simon wears a necklace to ward off vampires (he believes his roommate is a vampire) and when he is spending his time with “Normals” in the summer (LIKE HARRY FREAKING POTTER) they take it that he is really super religious. Also, he smells like smoke and Normals think he smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. Another nice detail considering he gets fired up quickly.
Penelope talks about a Veil lifting and how it is a rare occurrence when dead people return to give their loved ones messages. I like the Potter reference to the veil that the group find in book 5. And, like Harry, Simon is raised by Normals (muggles) but unlike Harry, Simon is literally the only one. I’m not sure if the book makes it clear as to what happened to Simon’s parents yet but I think it is cool that this is a detail. For example, there are things about this universe that Simon still gets confused about because of the pop culture he grew up on. He expects certain things to be real or work a certain way but it is different and it is still something he is getting used to because he wasn’t raised with it.
And once again, Sins of the Uncle time. This book actually references pop culture. We get a Star Wars reference in chapter 9. I’m so glad this is a thing because pop culture references were lacking criminally in Potter. We get a mention of a video game system at one point but that is only in reference to the Dursley’s and not discussed at Hogwarts. Again, not so much a criticism as something overlooked and could have made the world a bit more solid.
It seems this method of multiple chapters gives you much longer letters, friend. It’s surprising how much Rowell was able to say in such a short amount of time. I’m happy to say that I am enjoying the book so far though not heavily invested just yet. I’m mostly looking forward to the LGBT romance stuff that is yet to come so I admit I am a bit anxious to get past all of the introduction stuff. I will try to not let my emotions cloud the content this book has to offer.
Until next time, friend. Danielle.