Desert Isle Keeper
How dare this book make me love it so much? It had a slow start, and the premise seemed a bit like Harry Potter fan fiction, so I was all ready to toss it aside and give up. I am so glad I didn’t. Rowell’s first foray into fantasy has all of the heart and awkwardness that I love about her contemporary books, with the added fun of magic.
I decided to read Carry On because I enjoyed her book Fangirl. If you aren’t aware, in Fangirl, the main character is writing fan fiction for a fictional book series called Simon Snow. The series is portrayed as being a Harry Potter-esque world of a wizard school, good vs. evil, and magical creatures, that exploded into massive popularity and inspired films and a cult fan following. Cath writes gay fanfiction between the main character Simon and his vampire enemy/roommate Baz. Well, Rowell developed this idea into a full novel and that is Carry On.
As I said, the book is slow to start. Most of the early chapters are just Simon going back to school and wondering where Baz has gone off to, assuming that the other boy must be plotting something evil. He also shows half-hearted interest in his breakup with his girlfriend Agatha, and talks to the Mage about the evil force that is sucking magic from the world, known as the Insidious Humdrum. However, the story doesn’t really gain momentum until Baz returns nearly eight weeks into the school year, injured, and unwilling to reveal where he’s been. As soon as he returns, we learn that Baz has secretly been in love with Simon for years, in spite of their rivalry. At the first taste of Baz’s angst over his unrequited love I was totally hooked.
The relationships in this book are the real reason to read it. The budding and very uncertain romance between Baz and Simon ripped my heart out in the best way and kept me up late reading. Poor Baz is so self-loathing that he can’t really imagine a world where Simon would ever fall for a vampire, his enemy, or a man, and Baz is all three. I wanted to wrap Baz in a blanket and give him a hug.
Although I’ve compared this to Harry Potter, the magical system is very different. All of the magic spells are based on idioms, common phrases, nursery rhymes, etc., which I thought was very clever. For example, Baz casts you’re getting warmer to heat up some Shepherd’s pie. The magic is also limited and wizards can deplete their store of magic by using it too much. The evil Insidious Humdrum is draining spots of the magical atmosphere of their magic, making it impossible for mages to use their spells.
I described this book to a friend as Harry Potter, if Draco secretly loved Harry, but that doesn’t do Rowell’s excellent character-driven writing justice. If you enjoyed Rowell’s other books but haven’t given this one a chance, or if you want some adorable boy-boy kissing set in a world of magic idioms and intrigue, I highly recommend it. I know I am adding it to my keeper shelf to read again in the future.