Cover of Carry On, with two profiles (one yellow, one blue) facing off

About the Book

Title: Carry On (Simon Snow #1)
Published: 2015
Series: Simon Snow
Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Cover Story: Noelle Stevenson, Where You At?
BFF Charm: Make It Rain
Talky Talk: Enchanting
Bonus Factors: Harry Potter, Worldbuilding
Relationship Status: Under Your Spell

Cover Story: Noelle Stevenson, Where You At?

This cover is fine, really, but, like, was Noelle Stevenson too busy or something? Her artwork for Fangirl is just PERFECT, so frankly I was surprised that she wasn’t involved with this release. Alas… I suppose we have to carry on without her. (YEP I’M NOT TOO GOOD FOR THAT JOKE.)

The Deal:

If you’ve read Fangirl, then you’ve already gotten a taste of Simon Snow’s story, and I probably don’t need to convince you to read this novel. (So go do that, because I need to convo about it!)

If you haven’t, no worries, this book totally stands alone. But to give you a little history, Rainbow Rowell created the concept of Simon Snow as a book within a book (Fangirl). He’s basically a Harry Potter, an orphan who grew up unwanted until the day he learned that magic lives in his blood. And not just any kind of magic–the most powerful magic the world has ever seen. He’s the Chosen One, so he’s sent off to Watford, a boarding school for wizards, where he befriends Penelope (Hermione), courts Agatha (Cho Chang), squares off with his vampire roommate Baz (Draco) and battles against the Insidious Humdrum (Voldemort), all while seeking the approval of the Mage (Dumbedore), the closest thing he has to a father figure. Carry On begins with his last year at Watford, when the wizarding world is falling apart in the face of the Humdrum’s threats.

You might be wondering if this is like the 50 Shades of Harry Potter, and by that I mean, a fan-fic knock-off, not a hypersexualized adaptation involving magical S&M. The answer, dear Muggles, is a big fat NO. I realize that sounds crazy, after I’ve just explained the premise using Harry Potter references, but that’s why Rainbow Rowell is such a g-d genius. She’s taken inspiration from JK Rowling’s series and created something unique with it, something powerful and moving and ridiculously entertaining. While the skeleton of the story will certainly remind you of those days at Hogwarts, the heart and soul of it is wholly original, particularly when it comes to the relationship between Simon and Baz. (And if you don’t want any spoilers about that, stop reading this review right now. Rowell spoils it herself pretty early into the novel–and if you’ve read Fangirl you already know–so I don’t feel bad about discussing here.)

BFF Charm: Make It Rain

BFF charm holding an umbrella


First off, Simon Snow, unlike a certain other boy wizard, is totally not a dick. He’s impulsive and hotheaded, sure, but he’s brimming with compassion, and his goofy earnestness is beyond endearing. Since the narrative shifts among several characters, Rowell is able to relieve some of his potential angst (which got really bad towards the end for Ole Lightning Forehead) by poking fun at his Chosen One status, with lines like this, from Agatha:

(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.)

Speaking of Agatha, she’s a perfect example of how Rowell expertly twists her source material. Agatha is beautiful and cool, the Watford Dreamgirl, so of course she’s Simon’s girlfriend. Except maybe she doesn’t even like Simon? And maybe she doesn’t even like magic? Agatha, more than anyone else in this book, is her own person, and I dug her many, many eye rolls at the silliness of wizards, like this:

There are pages ripped out and taped all over one wall. (Not taped–stuck to the wall with spells.) (And this is exactly the sort of thing I’m sick of. Like, just use some tape. Why come up with a spell for sticking paper to the wall? Tape. Exists.)

Then there’s Penelope, who was probably my favorite character, if I had to choose. (Please don’t make me choose.) She’s brilliant, thoughtful and doesn’t give a cuss about what people think of her. She’s also an incredible friend to Simon, and the courage that springs from her love for him made me wish I could cast a hugging spell because ALL THE HUGS.

Finally, we have Baz (Tyrannus Basilton Pitch, to be exact–best name ever), who isn’t so much a villain as a total effing badass. Dude is THE SHIZZ, between his simmering malevolence and his haughty aristocratic air, and the only thing sharper than his wardrobe is his wit. What I’m saying is, he’s one cool (as f*ck) customer, so while I’m not nearly awesome enough to earn his friendship, he can certainly have mine.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Okay, so here’s the spoiler: Baz is gay, and he’s completely in love with Simon, but the latter has no idea. (He’s kind of a clueless doof in general.) In fact, Simon thinks Baz is constantly on a mission to kill him (and he is), which means there is a sizzling heap of enemistry in this book.

I’ve read a handful of gay YA, and while I’ve been swept up into the emotions, I’ve never gotten all hot and bothered between the pages. UNTIL NOW. Merlin’s beard, you guys! The tension emanating from these two boys is a five-alarm fire just waiting to happen, and Baz’s tortured feelings for Simon are deliciously exquisite. Their relationship is sexy and electric, yet still sweetly awkward and weird in the best possible way.

Talky Talk: Enchanting

Rainbow Rowell is a tremendously gifted writer, and her foray into fantasy showcases her immense imagination without diminishing the lively humor and pitch-perfect dialogue found in her contemporary novels. From the first page, Carry On is an engrossing adventure, but it’s also a finely tuned character study. The chapters rotate between different POVs, and though it takes a while for some voices to become distinct, Simon and his friends will all feel like your friends by the end. It’ll come as a shock, actually, when you shut the book and realize that they’re not sitting around you, working out spells, nibbling on sour cherry scones and participating in hilarious exchanges like this one (from Simon’s POV), which Penelope instigates with a comment about her roommate:

“Simon, a perfectly good room wouldn’t have a Trixie in it.”

“That’s your roommate?” Baz asks. “The pixie?”

“Yes,” Penelope says.

He curls his lips up and down at the same time. “Imagine you’re a pixie,” he says. “I know it’s distasteful, but imagine– you’re a pixie, and you have a daughter, and you name her TrixieTrixie the pixie.”

“I think it’s kind of cute,” I say.

“You think Trixie’s kind of cute,” Penny says.

“Trixie is cute.” I shrug.

“Snow,” Baz says. “I’ve just eaten.”

I roll my eyes. He probably thinks pixies are a lesser species. Half-sentient, like gnomes and Internet trolls.

“It’s like being a fairy named Mary,” he goes on.

“Or a vampire named Gampire,” I say.

“Gampire isn’t even a proper name, Snow. You’re terrible at this game.”

And now you love Baz, right? TOLD YA.

Bonus Factor: Harry Potter

Screenshot of Hermione, Harry, and Ron, wearing their robes and talking outside of Hogwarts

While Carry On is its own story, I gotta say, it sure went a long way in filling the gaping Harry Potter-shaped hole in my heart. It felt SO good to be back in a land with wizard boarding schools and whimsical spells and dragons and magical high jinks. Like butterbeer for the soul, basically.

Bonus Factor: Worldbuilding

Screenshot from Lord of the Rings with Frodo looking out at a magical city

I won’t go into too much detail on the myriad of ways that Rowell builds a unique culture for her novel, but damn, she’s clever. (Like, there’s a creature called a worseger, because it’s like a badger but worse. 10 points for Gryffindor!) One of my favorite aspects was the spells themselves–in this world, power lies in words, so the more a phrase is repeated, the stronger the spell. That’s why you’ll find Simon or Penelope twirling their wands and shouting, “Some like it hot!” to heat up some tea or “See what I mean!” so they can write things in the air. It’s funny and a little bit absurd, but it makes sense, and it’s just one of the many things that contribute to Carry On‘s richly fascinating setting.

Oh yeah, and there’s merewolves. Of course.

Relationship Status: Under Your Spell

Book, I feel like I just downed a cauldron of love potion, because I am FEELING you. With an intoxicating world and characters who immediately took up residence in my heart, you left me mesmerized… and with a raging case of TEABS. I wish I could accio a sequel right now!

FTC Full Disclosure: I used my own money to buy this book (because I wanted it THAT badly) and received neither money nor cocktails for this review.

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Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.