“(You have to pretend you get an endgame. You have to carry on like you will; otherwise, you can’t carry on at all.)”
Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.
Feelings: This book just kind of left me with a meh feeling, you know? My heart wasn’t racing during the action, I wasn’t swooning over the love-y bits, and I just didn’t connect with any of the characters. Ultimately, I think Rowell needs to stick with the contemporary genre and not dally in fantasy anymore. Sorry.
One thing I notice in all of Rowell’s books is that she loves a good pop culture reference. This particular book made reference to the song Call Me Maybe, Princess Leia, Winnie the Pooh, Doctor Who, Pokemon, and Downton Abbey, to name a few. The way these were used, along with how the characters spoke in a very contemporary way, made for an entertaining fantasy read.
Issues: Honestly, the main issue I had with this book was the central romance. I knew what was coming (because I read Fangirl), but if I hadn’t…I would have yelled WHAT?! outloud whilst reading. Now, that’s not because I was upset with their relationship in general, but because there wasn’t any indication that it was coming. Simon was obsessed with Baz, yes, but it was repeated over and over again that he was suspicious of him, that he didn’t trust him, that he wanted to catch him in a slip-up, etc. It just felt like dramatic effect, not natural, organic chemistry and real love. He was constantly talking about Baz in the first 100 pages, but then when Baz finally showed up…there was zero love hints. And once they did finally have that love connection (or snog fest, really) there wasn’t growth or depth in their relationships. It was just, we’re making out, I’m calling myself your boyfriend, then 100 pagers later I refer to you as my “love.”
The magic just didn’t come together, in my opinion. Throughout the book, characters mention how various spells were a “waste of magic”, but the meaning of that statement was only hinted at maybe…once? It would seem that using too much magic in one sitting could leave a person feeling drained or weakened. Now, that’s an interesting twist to the normal magical world narrative. Typically, there’s no limit when it comes to daily, simple spells, while more complex spells may leave a person exhausted.
Characters: Simon used to daydream about his parents: a footballer and a “posh model type”. So basically, the Beckhams? Is he just supposed to live the rest of his life not knowing who his true parents are? The reader knows, but NOBODY ELSE IN THE STORY CAN FIGURE IT OUT? Nobody could even GUESS that it was the truth? I find that very hard to believe. Simon was a flawed “hero”, which I’m always on board for, but he had no drive. His character fell flat for me. He was just a pawn that went wherever he was needed and his affection for Baz felt unnatural. Not in a sense that it was wrong, but that it didn’t seem authentic. He liked that Baz was willing to give him attention, so he ran with it.
The Insidious Humdrum is the WORST villain name in the history of villainous names. That’s all I have to say about that.
Baz has got some serious issues. He is a walking juxtaposition that I can’t figure out. His family is very Slytherin-like, he’s a VAMPIRE, he has his own cronies. For all intents and purposes, he’s set up to be the antagonist. Then after a while, he fills the reader in on his secret love for Simon (which comes out of nowhere and doesn’t fit). He never really turns good, but he’s not actually bad. He’s in this weird behavioral limbo.
Penelope was a pretty solid best friend character. She wasn’t a perfect Hermione-type (she broke some school rules) but she was the character that provided wise counsel and was a constant throughout the book.
Agatha is rude, rude, rude, rude, rude. Poor Simon is an orphan and you just un-invite him to family Christmas because it might make you uncomfortable? What a b! Who abandons an orphan on Christmas?
I really wanted to hate the Mage. But he had a point, you know? He wanted to give power back to the powerless, make learning magic more accessible for all, and bring about change in the political sphere. He was also bat crazy, in the end. His storyline with Lucy was sad. I felt sad for them. But what happened to Lucy? Obviously she died at some point, but how? When?
Comparisons: I couldn’t help but compare this book to the Harry Potter universe. I even made a T-chart in my notes with the similar elements in each book. I missed the Latin-inspired spells…the phrasal ones were so weird. For example: Some like it hot and Ix-nay on the atford-Way are actual spells. I thought they were funny and I died a little (in a good way) every time I read those bolded phrases. However, while they were one part silly, they were one part powerful. I think there’s a great message here about the power of words and common phrases. I thought it was super interesting how some spells lose their power over time as phrases get worn out and overused. As an English teacher, any time a book discusses the power of words…I’m sold.
Simon had the Mage’s cell phone number. Imagine if Harry had been able to text Dumbledore! The fact that this magical school was in this decade made for an interesting twist to how things were at Hogwarts in the 90’s and early 00’s.
Final thoughts: I think a lot of people loved this book because it was so different and many believe it to be necessary. It was clever and a great twist to the classic Chosen One narrative, but it just felt like it wasn’t ready. I’m not a professional editor or publisher, but I am an avid fantasy fan and this book fell flat strictly looking at the magical elements and character development. For entertainment factor, Rowell always comes through with her wit and voice.
Pick this up if you liked:
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (because reasons)
Goodreads rating: 4.35/5
Amazon.com rating: 4.6/5
My rating: 3.75/5
Happy reading! – Caitlyn