Firstly, I just need to get some things off my chest. Baz is not a suitable name for a supervillain, it’s a guy off Jeremy Kyle with 4 missing teeth, 6 kids and a girlfriend who might also be his mother. Watford is not a magical school, it’s a slightly dodgy part of North-West London. And Carry On is not a good name for a fantasy book, it’s a film franchise from the 1960s where mice run up women’s skirts and everything’s an innuendo.
Phew, glad to get that out the way.
I have been desperate to read this book from the moment I finished Fangirl. Actually from about three chapters in to Fangirl. So desperate was I get to my hands on it that I actually considered buying it full price. Unbelievable, I know. I got as close as standing in the Waterstones queue holding a copy in my hand when my true cheapskate self prevailed. But the intention was there and that says a lot.
I had resigned myself to a long long wait before I would actually find a copy of this second hand when for some reason I thought to check the university library. And there, snuggled between Plato’s Republic and textbooks on macroeconomics, was this wedge of bright pink YA fantasy nonsense. Why they had a copy I have no idea but it made my heart do little leaps of happiness. I practically ran home after work (only practically – even Baz can’t get me to exercise) so that I could sink my teeth into it.
Did it live up to expectations? No. But that didn’t stop me binge reading it in two days straight.
In case you’ve never read Carry On or Fangirl and somehow managed to avoid all the crazy hype surrounding every tiny thing Rainbow Rowell does, let me add a bit of context. Fangirl is the story of Cath, a college freshman and writer of Simon Snow fanfiction – which is a thinly veiled Harry Potter rip-off. Carry On is that fanfiction.
Instead of Harry Potter we have Simon Snow, who’s main character traits seem to be eating and obsessing over his roommate and arch nemesis, Baz, who is probably a vampire. Instead of Dumbledore we have the Mage, instead of Voldemort, the Insidious Humdrum, and Ron and Hermione are rolled up into a neat little Penelope Bunce shaped package.
The fact that Carry On is a spin-off from another book I do think caused some problems right from the get-go. Because of course when Cath is writing about Simon Snow in Fangirl it’s supposed be just before the release of the eighth installment. So there’s already been seven books of back story to build up the plot. In Carry On we just get thrown in at the deep end with all these different characters and relationships and world building. And a combination of that and the sheer speed at which I was reading meant I found it a little tricky to keep track of who everyone was and what they were doing.
But let’s not kid ourselves, I wasn’t really reading it to find out about Simon fulfilling his destiny, defeating the Insidious Humdrum, working out his relationship with the Mage and the internal wars between the wealthiest families; I was reading it for the Simon/Baz love story. Which in the excerpts in Fangirl was all passionate and exciting and dramatic, but in Carry On went out with more of a whimper.
For starters there was no Baz at all for the first third of the book. I was not happy about that. Then when he did turn up he just yearns after Simon for a couple of chapters before it’s all, oh hello, they’re a full on couple now, time to push that to the side and get back to the incredibly confusing plot line. Again, not happy.
Which is completely hypocritical of me because I’m about to start comparing this book to Harry Potter and if JK Rowling had put in anywhere close to the amount of romance that there was in Carry On I would have been screaming for less not more. But I’m impossible like that.
I maybe slightly preferred Simon Snow to Harry Potter as a protagonist (I cannot believe I am saying that. How dare I even suggest the Harry Potter books are anything less than perfect). But I think if he’d had to carry seven books rather than one I would have started to find Simon just as annoying as Harry. And although Baz was a more entertaining villain than Draco, he would have been much harder to hate.
But the one thing that Rainbow Rowell does that completely outstrips JK Rowling is the way she created magic. Cliches and sayings and quotes from songs and literature become the spells. And the more the words are said, the more powerful they become. And that was just a pure genius idea – to take the metaphorical power that words have and turn it into actual power. Genius, I say, genius.
Rainbow Rowell had a really tricky brief; to take something that was basically Harry Potter fanfiction and turn it into an original story. And considering that the end product is really quite amazing. It has an interesting world, truly awesome characters (seriously considering booting Samwise Gamgee off my list of top ten male characters to make room for Baz), comic value aplenty and some moments of genuine genius. If you can get passed the unnecessarily complicated plot, it’s really very good.