Carry On by Rainbow Rowell is a sharp and hilarious satire of Harry Potter featuring the worst chosen one ever
Simon Snow is the worst “chosen one” that has ever existed. That’s pretty much the line that drew me to Carry On. Rainbow Rowell is known more for her books like Eleanor & Park and Fangirl — pretty standard YA “outcast” fiction. But her first journey into fantasy was done so well that I wouldn’t be surprised if her next few novels are in the genre.
Carry On takes place in a magical world where magicians attend a school called Watford to hone their skills. Watford is run by a headmaster known as “The Mage” who takes an orphan boy under his wing because he believes that he is “the chosen one.” If you’re not catching a clear comparison here, then this should clear it up:
- Non-magical beings are completely unaware of the magical world and are called “Normals”
- Students are paired with their roommates through a crucibleMagicians use wands — along with rings, staffs, and other objects — to direct their spells
- Spells are phrases like “up, up, and away” and “some like it hot”
- There is a coven that is a board that handles all things political in the magical world
- There is a powerful being threatening the very fabric of the world called “The Insidious Humdrum”
Did you get it yet? Carry On is for all intensive purposes a satire (rip-off?) of the Harry Potter series. I didn’t learn until after I read the book that it was actually based on fan fiction written in Rowell’s previous novel, Fangirl. Which is why the book feels so familiar. In Fangirl, the series is meant to be a parody of Harry Potter. But as it’s own novel, it becomes a really well-made and unique satire that has strong enough roots to stand on its own as a unique novel.
Starting en media res, we are first introduced to Simon Snow in his last year at Watford. After surviving a goblin attack — the goblins decided that whoever kills him becomes their King — he returns to Watford. Throughout the beginning of his book he is obsessed with the whereabouts of his roommate, Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch or Baz, as he’s known. Baz is Simon’s sworn enemy and Simon is sure that he is up to now good. Throughout the book the two take swipes at each other and keep track of the other’s movements. However as the book switches perspectives, which it does every couple pages or so, we learn that there could be more than meets the eye.
But what made Carry On so fun and charming was that Rowell didn’t take the story and the world too seriously. There are silly YA romance moments that would make you roll your eyes in any other book. But Rowell embraces the silliness. She was not out to create high-art. She created a hilariously fun world filled with magicians and vampire and merewolves (mermaid-werewolves for you uncultured swine).
Not only that, she embraces the book’s roots in Harry Potter and turns them on their head. Rowell is able to create a plot and characters that are so distinct that any comparisons fade away by the end of the book. It is truly one-of-a-kind.
In the end, the most refreshing thing about Carry On is that it didn’t concern itself with making a series. I feel as if every single YA author thinks they need to churn out a trilogy no matter what. So, they write their first novel with a trilogy planned and that chip on their shoulder is always noticeable. Carry On doesn’t have that chip. Instead, Rowell starts and ends the story in the perfect places. If the book came as a series it would be the last one, and I’m happy about that. I’d like to think that Rowell did it on purpose to poke fun at the seemingly never ending series that has plagued the genre recently.