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64 pages 2 hours read

Rainbow Rowell

Carry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2015

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Published in 2015, Rainbow Rowell’s young-adult fantasy novel Carry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is a spinoff of her young-adult novel Fangirl (2013) and the first book of the Simon Snow trilogy.

Carry On, which was awarded a place on the Rainbow Project Book List in 2016, examines themes of love, power, and free will. Simon Snow is the Chosen One of a magical world. During his eighth and final year at the Watford School of Magicks, he discovers that his nemesis is missing and that his destiny is far different than he ever dreamed. The novel alternates between the perspectives of several characters, including the protagonist, his friends Penelope and Agatha, and his rival-turned-love-interest Baz.

Citations in this study guide refer to the eBook edition released by Macmillan in 2021.

Content Warning: The novel contains mentions of a suicide attempt.

Plot Summary

Simon Snow grows up in children’s homes in the Normal world. When he turns 11, he learns that he can do magic when the Mage, headmaster of the Watford School of Magicks, tells him that he is the Chosen One. The Mage believes that Simon is destined to save the world from the Insidious Humdrum, a mysterious entity draining magic from parts of the United Kingdom.

Simon struggles with controlling his magic, which in this world comes from the power of the spoken word. At the start of Simon’s eighth and final year at Watford, the Mage wants Simon to leave the school for somewhere safer, but Simon refuses. Nevertheless, Simon cannot convince the Mage to allow him to join the fight against the Humdrum.

Last semester, Simon saw his girlfriend, Agatha Wellbelove, holding hands with Baz Pitch, his vampiric roommate and nemesis. In their eighth year, Agatha breaks up with Simon because she is tired of feeling like a prize awarded to the hero at the end of a story. Baz is mysteriously absent at the start of the school year. Suspecting that his roommate is plotting against the Mage, Simon prowls the school grounds looking for him in vain.

This year is the first time in 20 years that the autumnal equinox allows spirits to speak to the living. However, Baz is abducted by troll-like creatures called numpties before the ghost of his mother, Natasha Pitch, can find him. Simon receives Natasha’s message instead. He learns that Natasha, the former headmistress of Watford, died when vampires attacked the school and bit her son. The person who murdered her is still free; someone named Nicodemus can help bring her spirit peace.

When Baz’s aunt rescues him from the numpties and he returns to Watford, Simon promises to help Baz find his mother’s killer, and the rivals agree to a truce until the mystery is solved. Secretly, Baz is in love with Simon and only flirts with Agatha to bother his rival. Baz keeps his feelings a secret because he believes that he and Simon are destined to fight one another. The Pitch family and the Mage are enemies, and Baz is certain that the Mage will send the Chosen One to destroy them one day.

Simon and Baz struggle to find clues about Natasha Pitch’s killer alongside Simon’s best friend, Penny. During Christmas break, Simon discovers that Nicodemus is the twin brother of Ebb Petty, Watford’s goatherd, and that he chose to become a vampire. Simon rushes to the Pitch mansion to tell Baz the news. Meanwhile, Baz learns that his aunt and Nicodemus were friends at Watford and that Nicodemus is now in London. Simon and Baz find Nicodemus, but he refuses to tell them anything except that a mage hired the vampires who killed Baz’s mother. Convinced that he’s failed, Baz tries to set himself on fire, but Simon saves his life and kisses him. The two become boyfriends, but they keep their relationship a secret.

The Humdrum, which looks like an 11-year-old Simon, strikes at the Pitch estate and forces Baz to attack Simon. Simon cures Baz by sharing his magic with him, and the Humdrum retreats. Knowing his family will blame Simon for the attack, Baz tells Simon to run. The Chosen One sprouts dragon wings and flies to Penny’s house. The next day, Baz, Penny, and Simon realize that Simon has created magical dead zones, strengthening the Humdrum every time he uses his powers. After this alarming revelation, Simon abandons the search for Natasha Pitch’s killer.

Alone, Baz returns to the numpties to find out who hired them and is nearly captured a second time. Nicodemus saves him, reveals that the Mage hired the numpties as well as the vampires who killed Baz’s mother, and asks Baz to help him save his sister from the Mage. Penny and Baz hurry to Watford because they fear what the headmaster will do to Simon. Meanwhile, a misguided Agatha hurries to the school to inform the Mage of her suspicions against Baz. When the Mage tries to murder Agatha for her magic, Ebb helps her escape and is killed instead.

The truth is now revealed: The Mage is Simon’s father, who performed a ritual on his infant son that made him the strongest magician alive. However, Simon’s inability to control his power has convinced the Mage that Simon is not the true Chosen One. The Mage asks Simon to give him his magic, but Simon instead gives it all to the Humdrum, making it disappear. When the Mage attacks Simon, Penny uses a spell to grant Simon’s words power. He wishes for the Mage to stop hurting him, and the Mage dies immediately.

After the Mage’s death, Baz is the only one of the four teenagers to return to Watford and complete the school year. Baz graduates at the top of his class, honors his mother in his speech, and promises to keep on living. Simon surprises Baz by attending the post-graduation ball and dancing with him, showing that he no longer cares who knows about their relationship. Agatha goes to college in California and embraces a Normal life, while Penny, Simon, and Baz move to London and enroll in university. Although Simon’s life is completely different from the one he expected, he’s grateful to have shaken off his destiny and to build a life of his own choosing.

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