This book took a little while to get going for me -- at first it felt as if Rowell was clearly out of her element writing fantasy -- and as someone who reads a lot of fantasy, I couldn't help but notice the shortcomings in worldbuilding, and just how LONG it seemed to take to set everything up; the story was about 1/3 of the way in before the plot really got going. Everything else was just showing us what it was like to be a student at Rowell's version of a magical school.
However, this book can really be read on two different levels: as a fantasy story in its own right, or as commentary on the world of Harry Potter.
It's passable as a story in its own right, but as commentary on the Harry Potter franchise, it is brilliant.
The parallels and nods to J.K. Rowling's worlds are obvious -- after all, the book started as an obvious stand-in for Harry Potter and Potter fan culture in its original incarnation in [book:Fangirl|16068905]. It's in the departures from Rowling's world that Rowell really drives her points home. Her version of a magical wizarding school is far more culturally and ethnically diverse than Rowling's, and it includes gay characters who don't have to wait for the whole series to be completed before being "outed" (::coughcough:: Dumbledore being gay after the fact was a copout ::cough cough::). It is, of course, much edgier than Rowling's world, with plenty of swearing and some making out, although certain aspects of it were strangely chaste. (Like, why did we never know the extent of Simon's and Agnes's sexual relationship even though they had been together for three years? Am I the only one who wondered about this?) It also examines the whole idea of the "chosen one" mythos and especially takes a jab at the somewhat creepy/inappropriate/irresponsible relationship between Dumbledore and Harry that is glossed over as perfectly healthy, warm, and admirable in Rowling's book. By contrast, the Mage (Dumbledore's stand-in), is an ethically ambiguous character, ultimately more dark than light, but for a long time Simon sees him through an adoring child's eyes much the way Harry sees Dumbledore. The difference is that Simon's perception of the Mage matures; Harry's never does.
It's somewhat strange to come in reading the "last book" in a series when the earlier books in the series do not actually exist. I couldn't help but notice how much more of an impact this story probably would have had on me if I had been following these characters' lives for years rather than being dropped into their world in the final act. I'm not sure I would have wanted to commit to seven books of this, anyway, but it's definitely a worthwhile read. It's got that Rowell "relationship magic" if that's what you go in for, but it's also a smart, incisive critique of what is arguably the most influential children's series of our lifetimes.
Just a quick review to say that I really enjoyed this one. I was sad to know what kind of life Eleanor put up with, but I'm hopeful enough to think that the end was just a new beginning...sappy I know. But, I think I have to believe that.
I enjoyed the story of Cath and her sister Wren, two young women in their freshman year of college who are trying to come to terms with growing into adulthood. Wren is launching herself into her idea of adulthood, with wild parties and brutal separation from her family. The unsociable Cath is warding off adulthood by clinging to the tokens of her childhood and responsibilities to her family, but is
finally dragged into the bewildering world of adulthood by the friends and boyfriend she tried not to make and her father’s insistence that growing up means creating a life beyond the safety of immediate family.
I liked that both characters grew over the course of the book, but still retained their essential selves. I liked that the consequences for recklessness didn’t have to include sexual assault as a plot device, as so commonly found in other books. I thought the “Simon Snow”/Harry Potter knockoff was funny, and having been a reader of HP fanfiction myself, I enjoyed the whole fanfic subplot as well, although I found it a little incredible that a popular author of fanfic would be naïve enough to turn in her fanfic in a college-level creative writing class, and to be hurt and surprised when her professor called it unoriginal and plagiarism.
Audiobook, borrowed from my public library via Overdrive. Rebecca Lowman provides a terrific performance, with Maxwell Caulfield reading all the “Simon Snow” excerpts.
I read this for the 2017 Romance Bingo, for the New Adult square. I think it could fit these other squares:
Young Adult: I genuinely think this belongs in New Adult, but because the main characters are still in their teens, the “voice” is that of teens, and there’s no explicit sex, you could argue that it fits YA too.
Key to My Heart: She falls in love, almost against her will, and through this new relationship learns to open her heart to others.
Twins: Cath and her sister are identical twins, and there’s even a few scenes with college douche-bros doing the whole, “whoa, twins, my sexual fantasy” thing, and even better, some decent guys calling them on it.
Fairy Tale Retelling: A bit of a stretch, but I’d argue that the “Simon Snow” tale is a retelling of and AU Harry Potter, and Cath’s fanfic is a retelling of an AU Simon Snow.
Guy/Girl Next Door: Cath’s new boyfriend
is literally her roommate’s friend and a constant visitor in her room, and he definitely has that boy-next-door persona