Cirrus’s Book Club: Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell

Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way first. It’s impossible to read this story without noticing parallels with a certain phenomenally successful series of childrens’ fantasy books (rhymes with “Larry Otter”).

Simon is The Chosen One, destined to save the World of Mages. He’s attending a British boarding school for mages. His best friend is a girl who is better at magic then he is. He’s an orphan, and the headmaster of the boarding school has taken on a surrogate father role.

Then there’s the Draco Malfoy character, who comes from one of the Old Families, and is scheming against the headmaster. Baz is possibly evil. Probably trying to kill Simon. Almost certainly a vampire. And also Simon’s roommate.

But if you think you’ve got the story all figured out from the description, it skews the familiar plot lines in new and interesting ways. At time it feels like you’re reading the last book in the series, because the story keeps alluding to events that happened in the characters earlier years at Watford (slaying a dragon, confronting a chimera, getting abducted by the Big Bad).

Any good fantasy novel of this type needs an interesting magic system. The magic system in “Carry On” is all about words. But instead of Harry Potter’s Latin, it’s well known phrases, imbued with power. And the more well-known and frequently used, the more powerful the spell. Some of the spells in the book include UP UP AND AWAY, SCOOBY DOO, WHERE ARE YOU? and CLEAN AS A WHISTLE. And the most powerful spells of all are nursery rhymes.

Simon is just about the powerful magician ever, in terms of the raw power he can access (Chosen One), but doesn’t have very much control over his magic, and has a habit of just blowing up in spectacular fashion.

If you want to enjoy a fantasy novel that enjoys gently poking fun at some of the clichés of the Harry Potter genre, I recommend this book. It’s a fun read, and will probably surprise you in a good way.

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