This week, we finally got to read Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. Fangirl, the original book that this is essentially a spinoff of, is probably now in my top ten favorite fictional books ever. I loved it; I loved everything it made me remember, regarding my freshman year of college and Harry Potter. I loved the characters. I loved the story. So when I heard that Carry On was coming, I was excited to rekindle that love.
|In retrospect, the cover should have been a clue.|
The book itself, though, is more akin to Eleanor & Park in terms of structure, with multiple points-of-view that would change sometimes in the middle of a chapter. While there are definitely nods to other Chosen One narratives, notably Harry Potter, there's also nods to fanfiction, which makes sense given what Carry On was born out of. But what was missing in the book was that natural sense of whimsy and awe that you get from a fantasy book.
Good fantasy is grounded; it might replace or add some things from our society, but it's still our society at its core. Harry Potter might have magic, but the society is still going through the same struggles Muggle society is. Buffy may kill vampires, but she's also a teenaged girl dealing with teenaged problems. Frodo is going on a journey, but the Shire still seems familiar. But the World of Magick (ugh, I hate it when people add a k) doesn't seem familiar or realistic at all; it feels fake. I didn't get the feeling that Rowell knew what every building looked like and what the usual foods were or any of that. The World of Magick felt small, and not at all a World.
Perhaps that's what happens when you are only reading the final book of the series. Carry On pretends to be the eighth book of the series, and all of the flashbacks to previous books take time away from world building. That's the other flaw of the series; while the backstory ultimately wasn't needed, the constant references to it got boring after a while. We get that Simon had lots of adventures. We get that there were other books. But when you spend so much time on the past, the book is going to lag.
And it did. The plot is slow and clunky most of the time. Characters seemed to disappear until we needed them. There was really just a main plot (will Simon defeat the humdrum?) with the romantic subplot, with the majority of the emphasis going towards the romance than the plot itself. This wouldn't be a problem if the book was a romance, but it definitely was trying to be plot-driven, and it didn't work. There was not a good balance between the two.
At the end, then, Carry On is really just a romance novel about two wizards. It isn't a novel that takes place in a huge world, or a story about a Chosen One--it's a story about choosing one. Many people are going to love that, but for those who were excited for the fantasy aspect and immersion, it's going to be a little disappointing.