By Rainbow Rowell
Published 8 October 2015
Fandom is important. It can be life changing. It can be life saving. The shared community, the in jokes, the anticipation and excitement, the creation, reimagining, reframing and sharing of a much loved media. I adored and highly related to Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, which followed Cath on her path through college, combating anxiety and falling in love all the while working on her epic meta fanfic that shipped storybook characters, Simon and Baz. As such, it was with much fangirlish excitement that I anticipated this spin off Simon Snow story from Rainbow herself. And I wasn’t disappointed. In Carry On, Rainbow creates the meta meta fanfic novel of my dreams.
With more than a wink and a nod to Potter, Carry On follows Simon and Baz on their final year at Watford School of Magicks. Simon is the most powerful magician the world has ever known, the Chosen One, but he’s the worst Chosen One you’ve ever encountered. He can’t cast spells properly, and his magic tends to just build up and go off, catching all and sundry in the blast. Baz is his roommate, his nemesis, and also a teen vampire (even if no one will believe Simon when he tells them!) He’s also missing. Together with his best friend Penelope, and his ex-girlfriend Agatha, Simon must survive the school year…if only he could stop obsessing about that git Baz’s whereabouts.
This is a school where there are dragons, ghosts, pixies, a mint aero, mobile phones and laundry to deal with alongside lessons. It is FANTASTIC.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when picking up Carry On. It *could* have been a full on spoof, with jokes on every page to the detriment of plot. However Rainbow works her magic and instead creates a subtle world that celebrates the mundanity of ‘Normal’ life, from bus rides and foster homes to Ant and Dec, and puts it alongside a world full of incredible magical things that all still serve a function. The spells aren’t intricate Latin, but instead clichés and song lyrics, imbued with power from their repetition. The swearing is TOP NOTCH, with all the f bombs and Stevie Nicks you can dream of, paired alongside a good dose of Merlin’s beard. It made me guffaw. Actually guffaw. I’m glad no one was there to see it…
Of course, we can’t discuss Carry On without discussing the central relationship. For many shippers and fandoms, writing same sex pairings is old hat. (One word…Drarry.) But as the push for diverse stories demonstrates, there’s always always room for more in mainstream media. Simon and Baz are a delightful nod to tropey love stories of fics past, as enemies turned reluctant friends, turned lovers. They’re also fully rounded in their own right, with foibles, loves and worries as individuals. Rainbow creates an entirely new set of characters who deserve their own stories. With simmering tension, and lingering looks, they are the ultimate JUST KISS couple…and boy will they let you know when they do.The UST on this M/M OTP is truly explosive!! Rainbow’s fandom credentials come out in force in these scenes, and she can make you swoon with utmost gusto. She also looks at self-identifying and labels, with two very different paths.
As to the villain of the story, move over He Who Must Not Be Named, the Humdrum is here, and his raison d’etre is to suck away magic, leaving dead spots behind where no magic can be conjured. Worrying the mage world, this ultimate evil causes political unrest and fractious relationships in the coven. But all might not be as it seems. The Humdrum is wonderfully creepy in its slight ridiculousness. It seems quite the hapless villain, without much cause. But when it wreaks havoc, it really gets destructive. I laughed and gasped in equal measure.
I also adored the girls in Carry On. Mixed race Anglo-Indian Penelope with her magicked hair and her need to get everything sorted and keep Simon safe. She’s gobby and unapologetic and brilliant. She swears like a trooper with some damn fine inventiveness, and her knack with words makes her a fantastic magician. She also has a scene or two with just Agatha (which passes the Bechdel test thank you) who she doesn’t entirely get, but who is her friend all the same. Agatha is done with the magical world, and would rather be having pedicures with her friends, on sunning herself on a beach somewhere. With the trouble her friends get into on a regular basis...fair play!
This story unfolds slowly, taking its time, revelling in drip fed backstory and gorgeous tongue in cheek world building.The setting embraces fantasy England; there’s a boarding school, a manor house, catacombs and lakes, burning forests and brisk chases across the city. The action is earned, pacy and thrilling. The book is full of delightful hidden references, from British pop culture to UKYA authors!
With twists and turns, hilarity and humanity, love and loss, Carry On is one epic fandom ride that understands, celebrates and pushes the boundaries of the origins from which it was born. Cath would be proud.
Now…give me ALL the fanart!
PS: Thank you Mel for recommending I have chocolate at the ready. ALL THAT ROMANTIC TENSION AND DELICIOUS ANGST!!! I ate my feelings. Also Mint Aero.