It seems only right and proper to begin this pair of reviews by revealing that I am not generally a fantasy lover. On that note, I can say that venturing into the respective otherworlds of The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell was surprisingly delightful.
Both stories were set on a present-day Earth with magical realms hidden in plain sight. Both spent their plots following a chosen one protagonist as they navigated their destined path via alternating points of view. Both protagonists, Echo in The Girl at Midnight and Simon in Carry On, were born into normalcy, orphaned, and adopted by a sage authority figure (the Ala for Echo, and the Mage for Simon). Both have a prophesied mission to save themselves and their realms, both have to discover and harness their power and prove themselves worthy of their ultimate cause, and both have fierce friends and meet ferocious obstacles along their journey. Both stories feature romances of the heterosexual, homosexual, and inter-magical-beings variety.
The Girl at Midnight is Grey’s debut novel brings a young girl, Echo, who ran away from an abusive home life into the magical realm of the Avicen, a race of magical, feathered people who are at war with the Darkharin, a dragon race with magic of their own. In filching a music box for her adoptive mentor, the Ala, as a birthday gift, Echo sets off a domino effect wherein she must find a possibly mythical creature called the Firebird, the only thing that can end the war between the battling races. During this epic scavenger hunt, Echo’s sense of loyalty and belonging with the Avicen is put to the limits when she accidentally allies with the Darkharin prince, whose ultimate goal is the same as hers: everlasting peace. The door for a sequel is left wide open.
Carry On comes to us via Rowell’s previous YA work, Fangirl. In Fangirl, Cath, a college student, writes slash fanfiction for a fictional, Harry-Potter-inspired book series whose latest installment has yet to reach eager readers’ hands. “Carry On” is the title of Cath’s fanfiction, but Carry On by Rainbow Rowell is professed to be a different story entirely despite sharing a title. In this rendition of Carry On, despite being raised amongst the Normals, Simon has been prophesized to be the most powerful Mage in the world, the only one powerful enough to end the terror reign of the Insidious Humdrum. As the first Normal to enter the Watford School of Magicks, his presence isn’t always welcome especially by Old Families like his sworn enemy and roommate, Baz’s. However, circumstances bring the unlikely pair (as well as Simon’s friend Penny, and sort-of-girlfriend, Agatha) together to overcome the source of their magickal despair.
Remember in the beginning when I didn’t read fantasy? The Girl at Midnight presented the exact conundrum I have with the genre. While its present action sucked me in and did not let me go until the end, I was left with lingering questions about the magic, the history of the war, and many other tidbits that could have easily been made clear without sequels. While Carry On also left some magickal questions unanswered, the fact that it is the answer to a fictional fan fiction (and ostensibly the last installment in a series) based on a more widely known and much beloved (by me) fantasy left me feeling very at ease with many of the loose strings.
And so I see this round of the battle not as two fantasies with big similarities and bigger differences, but as a debut fantasy versus a veteran meta-commentary on fantasies. And, as the reader who does not easily take to fantasies, you may have already prophesied this round’s chosen one.
WINNER: CARRY ON BY RAINBOW ROWELL
Reviewed by Brittany Staszak, St. Charles Public Library