Carry On by Rainbow Rowell is the realization of the fantasy world that the main character in Fangirl writes about.
Simon Snow's last year at Watford, the school of Magick that is more of
a home to him than any of the orphanages and foster homes where he grew
up. Nothing is going according to plan, though -- the Insidious Humdrum
is causing havoc all over Britain, but the Mage is strangely absent and
preoccupied. Simon has had a fight with his girlfriend, and Baz,
Simon's evil vampire roommate, hasn't even shown up for the start of
term. Simon's need to know what Baz is up to pretty much amounts to a
fixation -- who knew he could be even more irritating in absence
than when present? And of course, what Simon should really be worrying
about is the Insidious Humdrum, who can suck a region dry of magic, and
who recently appeared in the guise of Simon himself as a young boy. Why
is the Humdrum wearing Simon's face, and does the Mage have any plans to
stop the Humdrum from stealing magic?
If you've read Fangirl, you know that in that universe the Simon Snow series is an eight-book fantasy epic much like Harry Potter, and Carry On, Simon is the massive slash fanfic written by Cath, the main character in Fangirl -- an alternate ending to the series. Of course, in our world, none of that exists, except now we have Carry On,
which is probably not exactly what Cath would write, but closer to
Cath's version of events than to Gemma T. Doyle's. (If you haven't read Fangirl,
you're probably pretty confused by now. Sorry.) Basically, assume there
have already been seven books about the adventures of Simon Snow, his
best friend Penelope, his girlfriend Agatha, and his nemesis/roommate
Baz. Except, of course, there haven't, so Rowell has to include some
backstory that readers of the nonexistent series would already know
about, which she does skillfully.
I went into this book with trepidation: due to the factors I attempted to explain in the preceding paragraph, the concept of Carry On
sounded to me like Rowell was basically writing her own fanfiction.
Plus, everything she's published until now has been pretty well grounded
in reality (magical phone lines to the past notwithstanding). I
shouldn't have worried. If anyone can pull off this crazy concept, it's
Rainbow Rowell. Reading this book felt a little bit like reading Deathly Hallows
again for the first time -- not because of any similarities in plot,
but because she really captured the feeling of a long-awaited final
book, even though the earlier books don't technically exist. Carry On lovingly (and obliquely) pokes at some of the weaknesses of Harry Potter without ever becoming too harshly critical.
And of course, Carry On
is a fantastic story in its own right, with a carefully developed
system of magic, elaborately imagined setting, and a plot that builds to
a dramatic and surprising conclusion. I found the whole thing
Can you read this book without having read Fangirl? Probably, but I wouldn't recommend it. Though the plot is entirely independent of Fangirl, the characters and relationships are introduced there in a way that primes the reader for greater enjoyment of Carry On. But if you're a fan of Fangirl and have been feeling some trepidation about Carry On, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)