Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On is a fanfic of Gemma T. Leslie’s Simon Snow series. It would be an unauthorized fanfic were it not that Gemma T. Leslie and Simon Snow were both created by Rainbow Rowell. They were introduced in Rowell’s novel Fangirl.
Simon Snow returns to wizard school Watford for the final year of his magical education. Summer at the latest foster home in the Normal world has been dreadful as always. Life at Watford isn’t without its challenges, but at least at Watford Simon has his friendship with Penelope and his joyless romance with the beautiful Agatha.
Amongst Simon’s challenges:
Simon is the Chosen One who will save the magicking world from the Insidious Humdrum. Simon has no idea how to do this, but Chosen One isn’t a position from which one resigns.
Being the Chosen One has painted a giant target on Simon’s back; all manner of dark creatures want him dead. Good thing Simon has a magic sword, because
While Simon is an absurdly powerful magician, he is also an absurdly inept one, apt to overdo things so severely that even minor spells can be hazardous to Simon and those around him.
Not only is Simon’s long-running romance with Agatha utterly tepid, Simon saw her holding hands with Simon’s bitter enemy Baz.
Baz, Simon’s hunky worst enemy, probable vampire, and rival for Agatha’s affections, is Simon’s roommate.
Simon’s eighth year was another round in the seemingly endless wars between the forces of good (as defined by Simon’s mentor, the Mage who runs Watford) and the Insidious Humdrum. Complicating matters are the upper-class toffs whose rule the Mage overthrew, the various dark creatures who persist in attacking Watford, and the never-ending conflicts with Baz.
This year is a bit different. Simon faces interpersonal problems (and a ghost). Simon and Agatha break up (not a surprise, really). Baz fails to show up for term, which can only mean that he is lurking somewhere working on some especially devious plan to harass Simon. Finally, Baz’s mother makes an appearance.
This is quite odd, as she’s dead. She was killed by vampires years and years ago. Her ghost manifests with a message:
“Tell my son,” she says fiercely. “Tell him that my killer walks — Nicodemus knows. Tell Basilton to find Nico and bring me peace.”
Baz’s mother died protecting the school nursery against a vampire raid. Presumably the killer isn’t the vampire she dusted, but the person who orchestrated the unprecedented attack. When Baz shows up (after having been kidnapped and rescued; he wasn’t plotting against Simon) Simon passes on the message.
The roommates agree to set aside their enmity for as long as it takes to bring Baz’s mother’s killer to justice.
Too bad that neither of them has an any idea who “Nico” might be.
I have not read Fangirl. It’s pretty clear that the Simon Snow series, as described in that book, is a pastiche of the Harry Potter books1. Carry On seems to be a critique of Potter. We have devious headmasters, Chosen One, child soldiers, tepid romances. I thought the critique a little overdone. The Mage isn’t just a headmaster: he’s the de facto dictator of the wizarding world, the man heading a police state that attacks anyone the Mage thinks is an enemy. Dumbledore may have been a crap mentor, but he wasn’t as nasty as the Mage. The Chosen One isn’t … no, don’t go there, because spoiler.
The Potter books are intermittently anti-aristocratic. The posh wizarding families are classist and frequently evil. Carry On reverses this: the Mage is something of a Bolshevik, persecuting the aristocrats. He turns out to be evil, so aristocrats … good? I didn’t like that.
On the other hand, it was a relief to read a speculative fiction book in which brutal autocracy and race war turn out not to be the right answers. And yay for Agatha, who refuses to be the Chosen One’s achievement prize.
If one comes at this book as I did, with no idea that it was a follow-up to the Fangirl, one will wonder why so many aspects of the plot are contrived and unconvincing. Rowell had to stick to the storyline she had sketched in Fangirl, while subverting it. For instance: no adults have ever wondered WHY the vampires attacked the nursery or WHO might have been behind it. The Mage may have had no interest in dissecting the vampire attack that allowed him to mount what was basically a coup, but Baz’s family must have been curious. Wouldn’t you be if your relative had been murdered? That’s not the only curious incident that no characters in the novel have ever bothered to question.
I haven’t read much fanfic so it’s hard to assess Carry On in terms of what it might be saying about fanfic. No doubt all the Potter/Draco shippers will have something to say on this matter.
This was all a bit meta for my tastes but readers looking for fic about fanfic…fanficfic…might find this worth a look.
1: And perhaps also a critique of the Earthsea series or the Scott Pilgrim comics. Or indeed, decades of SFF featuring chosen ones.