Book Review: “Simon Snow” by Rainbow Rowell

October 6, 2015

The release of Rainbow Rowell’s Simon Snow novel, Carry On (The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow), has been one of my most anticipated book releases this year. The time has finally arrived – Carry On is out in the world. When Carry On arrived early last week, I couldn’t contain my excitement and knew that I had set aside a good block of time to just read.

Fangirl, the novel which helped to inspire this one, is the story of fan-fiction writer, Cath, who has just started college. Cath is obsessed with a series called Simon Snow and racing to finish her hugely popular fan-fiction before the final book in the series is released. While there are many apparent parallels to Harry Potter through Fangirl, Rainbow creates her own magical world through Simon Snow that you just want to know more about. So, when Rainbow announced last year that she would be writing her very own Simon Snow book, fans – including me – imploded with excitement.

From Rainbow’s site:

Simon Snow just wants to relax and savor his last year at the Watford School of Magicks, but no one will let him. His girlfriend broke up with him, his best friend is a pest, and his mentor keeps trying to hide him away in the mountains where maybe he’ll be safe. Simon can’t even enjoy the fact that his roommate and longtime nemesis is missing, because he can’t stop worrying about the evil git. Plus there are ghosts. And vampires. And actual evil things trying to shut Simon down. When you’re the most powerful magician the world has ever known, you never get to relax and savor anything.

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story — but far, far more monsters.

I absolutely adored this book. From the moment I started reading, I was drawn into Simon’s world and didn’t want to put it down. Despite being so excited about the book, I didn’t really know what to expect and I was delighted to find that it was everything I wanted – and more. Rainbow is a beautiful writer, and manages to create worlds that you just want to live in – and this book is no exception. Carry On is pure YA, and absolutely perfect for older Harry Potter fans, fans of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians series – and those would love something in between the two.

My first thoughts were along the lines of, “well this magic world is nothing like Hogwarts.” And it’s not. Simon Snow’s magic world has technology, pop culture references, football, lacrosse, swearing, sexuality, and lots of kissing. There are also vampires and pixies, dwarfs and ghosts. This is not a magic world that cuts itself off from the “Normal” one (as the non wizarding folk are known as), but one that exists alongside, and it works extremely well.

Simon Snow, the main character of the novel, is an orphan, brought up by Normals and living in a children’s home. The book opens with him making his way back to Watford School of Magicks for his last year, where he knows he must finally destroy the monster that is out to get him and save the magical world. Over the past seven years at school, Simon has encountered plenty of monsters and challenges, and as the “Chosen One” he knows he must finally end the war that has erupted.

Simon Snow appears like your typical orphaned “Chosen One” hero, but in fact, there is so much more to this character. I loved the direction that the story took, surprising me along the way. Near the beginning of the book, Simon explains why he loves Watford and magic so much:

Magic. I miss magic when I’m away.

When I’m by myself, magic is something personal. My burden, my secret.

But at Watford, magic is just the air that we breathe. It’s what makes me a part of something bigger, not the the thing that sets me apart.

Despite Simon being the main character, many different points of view are used through the book. This works really well, and it’s great to get an insight into the other character’s heads, making the story feel more rounded and less one sided. It also makes you forget to compare it to Harry Potter. Simon is not Harry and after a while it’s apparent that they’re set on different paths. That’s what makes this book great – it does something different and is rich and full.

The cast of characters is wonderful and felt very real – and British! There’s Simon’s best friend, Penelope – easily comparable to Hermione with her love of books, Simon’s girlfriend, Agatha, and Simon’s vampire roommate and nemesis, Baz, who Simon believes is out to destroy him.

There is fighting and magic (of course – there’s a war), there are secrets and mysteries to solve, but there’s also plenty of humor and laughter, falling in love and friendship. There’s a lot of food in this book too – wonderful descriptions of feasts, from the late night snacks to the scones that Simon is obsessed with.

At the heart of the story, forgetting the fighting, the monsters, the magic – all of that, there’s a love story and it’s beautiful and probably, just what you want – especially if you’ve read Fangirl and Cath’s fanfiction. And no, I’m not saying anything else about it…

This is a book that is exciting, magical, and takes you to places that you might not expect.

Finally, I want to comment on the design of this book. It’s absolutely gorgeous and wonderful to hold in your hands. In the UK edition, there’s a ribbon to mark your place and maps of Watford School covering the front and back pages. The dust jacket itself is beautiful, and the cover underneath is stunning – I don’t know which one I prefer more! I believe that the American edition of the book differs ever so slightly.

If you love stories about magic, friendship, and love then this is a book for you. I loved it, I hope you do too.

Carry On is released in the US, today, October 6, and in the UK, on October 8. Get your copy now! Find out more about the book here.