After a long hiatus of reviewing books, it is my pleasure to get back into the swing of things with the first book I read in 2016. This review will coAfter a long hiatus of reviewing books, it is my pleasure to get back into the swing of things with the first book I read in 2016. This review will contain all sorts of spoilery spoils that will delight in spoiling, so if you do not wish for said spoils to do their spoiling, you will run. Run far, fast, and then farther--preferably to your nearest bookstore so that you can pick up a copy of this amazing story.
So. Carry On. I'll begin by stating that this is the first Rainbow Rowell book I've ever read.
I know. I know. Sinful. It isn't anything to do with Rainbow, or any other authors really. Rather it's just my own life being... well, lifey. But I have to say, I sort of liked reading about these characters before succumbing to the pleasure that is Cath's fanfiction in Fangirl, which is where these characters originated. Now when I DO go back and read Fangirl, I'll moon (man swoon. Or perhaps it is swan) all over again hearing about Simon Snow and the grumpily delightful Basilton.
The story starts out a bit slow, as does most things that involve Snow. Not slow in terms of boring, not necessarily, but as this story is heavily influenced by Harry Potter, Rowell takes us through a brief rundown of the "other" books, the previous years of their attendance at Watford. We hear of Snow's adventures during his first year, second year, third, so on, setting up his history with not only Baz, but his friends Penelope, Agatha, Eb, and the Mage. It is a very nostalgic head rush, bringing me back to my HP days when I first picked up Sorcerer's Stone. With the names of characters--Pitch, Wellbelove--of locations--Wavering Wood. WAVERING. WOOD--the first couple of chapters feel like a homage more than a novel. It's light, mild, and sort of feels like it has not yet morphed into its own story. But with a book like this, I realize this sort of setup is necessary, and I was entertained by the huge amount of detail Rowell placed in these beginning moments.
We do meet a huge cast of characters in these chapters. The Mage was the blandest of all to me. Mostly because I kept picturing Dumbledore/Gandalf-type characters, yet the Mage felt more... flawed, greedy, sinister, even though he was Snow's closest ally. I had a hard time getting his mental imagery right. But even so, I didn't dislike him. Agatha, too, was a flawed stew with bits of brilliance tossed in, and I liked that. Her involvement in the story, and in Basilton's love life, had me on the edge of my seat because it conflicted against my OTP--I didn't know her purpose, her intentions, and that kept me coming back for more. Add in the fact that both boys were seemingly smitten with her and you have one large enigma by the name of Wellbelove. She was an odd bit of suspense in a list of chapters devoted to world building--and I shouldn't say world building, more like history building.
Then more suspense builds when you realize that Simon's roommate, Basilton, has not returned to Watford. He's been missing. And Snow loses. His. Mind. He searches everywhere for Basilton. He thinks his arch nemesis is spying on him, biding his time in order to lure Snow into the perfect trap. But as you read on, you realize bits of information Snow tosses at us that allows glimpses into deeper emotions. Sure, it's reasonable to search for someone so that they don't get the better of you, it's fine to notice how he holds his wand or what spells he favors. But then you have Snow noticing how the hair falls over Basilton's eyes when he gets flustered, how quiet the room is when Baz's breathing can't be heard at night. Snow begins looking for him around corners and down hallways--and almost finds himself disappointed when he isn't there.
But then. BUT. THEN.
Baz comes back.
And oh lawd, is it wondrous.
Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch may be one of my favorite characters ever. While at first I thought he had a bit too much going on--vampire, mage, esteemed heir to the Grimm-Pitch line?--none of it is stuffed in your face with the intent to swallow it whole. Each aspect of his personality, his love conflict with Snow, is presented throughout the book as a constant personal struggle. Basilton acts coldly, masking his affections with hate because it's easier to explain, easier to resort to dislike the way his family would want him to. He has to hate Snow because Snow, oblivious Snow, is the chosen one. Not only is every physical loss to Snow a disappointment, every admittance of Basilton's affection for him also feels like a personal failure--failures he can't control, failures that will not go away.
Rainbow Rowell got a LOT right with Basilton. Every aspect of his character is splendidly done. Not just Basilton, but with a gay relationship in general. There is one line from Basilton that resonates so, so strongly with me.
He lets his hand fall, and I catch it. Because I'm weak. Because I'm a constant disappointment to myself.
It's a simple, powerful line. That's where most of Rowell's most hard-hitting moments come in. Simple, poetic, effortless phrases like that one. So many people can relate to Basilton's feelings, how sometimes you feel like you do nothing but let yourself down. For someone so ferocious and so magickally gifted to feel that way? It's heartbreaking, but it's life and it can be beautiful. Basil and Snow's relationship was actually surprisingly raw and primal at times, the two of them taunting each other to reveal a bit more truth, just a bit more. It was fun to watch and easy to lose yourself in. Twined with the sinister plot involving the Mage/Royal Family conflict and the murder of Basilton's mother, Natasha Grimm-Pitch, there was an even amount of romance and drama with a very bittersweet but satisfying end.
Also, I couldn't even dislike Wellbelove's decision at the end. I felt for her. Her decision wasn't ideal, but it was realistic for her character. Not everyone finds the bravery the situation demands. Sometimes we run. It was very, very real, and this may sound insane, but I respected that. Of course I wish she would have stayed. But she left. I didn't want it, but I got it. You know?
Of course everything I felt less fond of in the book grew on me by the end. The names of spells that I thought were cheesy? Had me feeling so many feelings by the "Carry on" line. Oh, and don't even get me started about "Simon Says" and the Mage. Woof. Those were some 'motions. Even the wings and tail I got used to.
I happily give it a 5/5, and a 92%
I could go on even more, but this review in of itself has already become its own novel. So there isn't really anything else to add. Penelope Bunce, I adore you. Simon Snow, I envy you. And Mr. Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch? Watch for numpties.