Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Young Adult
Format Read: Hardback
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on January 31st 2017
Book Depository | Buy from publisher
Whatever you've heard about Caraval, it doesn't compare to the reality. It's more than just a game or a performance. It's the closest you'll ever find to magic in this world . . .
Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.
Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.
But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.
Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.
So Caraval, eh. One of the most highly anticipated books of the year in the YA community, and definitely not what I was expecting. They call it a game, where you’ll be pulled in by the magic and swept away by intrigue. Scarlett, our main protagonist, is event warned twice:
“You can sip magic from a cup and buy drams in a bottle. But before you fully enter our world, you must remember it’s all a game.”
Was it really a game? No. And that’s the most disappointing part. I’ve heard the comparisons to The Night Circus, and while I haven’t read that book before, I feel like I have a pretty good gist of how magical that novel must be. Caraval on the other hand…I’m just not sure about it. I’ve been tossing up between a 2.5 or 3 stars, and at the end of the day, 2.5 won out.
Scarlett and Donatella are sisters that have never left their island isle, ruled by a fearsome father whose punishments are swift and heavy-handed. After the disappearance of their mother, Scarlett learned to grow up and take care of her younger sibling, even as far as agreeing to a marriage to a Duke that she’s never met in order get herself and Tella off the isle and away from their father.
I admire Scarlett’s selflessness, but as a character, I just didn’t click with her. Honestly, all the characters were extremely bland and I find I have to keep flipping back through the book to remember who they are. There was a love interest in some guy called Julian — who surprise (or not really), is more mysterious than he first appears. Did I ship him with Scarlett? I guess. Was there chemistry? Eh.
The best part of the whole book was the love between Scarlett and Tella. Scarlett would go to the ends of the world and back for her sister, and Tella — from the little scenes we have with her — would do the same. Two people against the world (well, mainly their father), this relationship was really the only one I could fully get behind.
The world building
You mean, the lack-thereof? I don’t even know where to begin with how bad the world building is. So the readers are pretty much told that there was some conquering of the isles by some bigger country, and for some reason it’s really hard to get off the isles. To be honest, I have no idea what the heck was going on there. There’s a southern country I think, where Julian is meant to come from. And Scarlett and Tella’s isle is a part of the Elantine Dynasty. But they wear regency clothing for some reason or another that is never explained.
I would have overlooked this lackluster world building if for example, I felt like the author spent all her time and resources into fleshing out the actual Caraval world…but unfortunately, neither was all that immersive. The use of purple prose to describe the world does not equate to world building. And frankly, some of the descriptions and metaphors just didn’t make sense.
“He tasted like midnight and wind.”
Um, what. What does midnight taste like? I imagine the wind would taste a lot like sand being blown into your mouth?
And while we’re at it…why does Scarlett associate EVERYTHING with a colour? She can pretty much taste colour. This is never explained. Why is this a thing? Do other people experience the same thing in this world, or is she just a special snowflake?
Honestly, I had no idea what the hell was going on half the time, and that end reveal just deflated me all the more because it was so unsatisfying.
This year’s Caraval ‘game’ revolved around the disappearance of Tella. Every participant in the game is looking for her, including Scarlett who must get to her sister first, and win the price of a wish. Given a set of clues, participants explore the world of Caraval at nightfall in order to collect clues that will lead to where Tella is held. That is, if you’re really playing the ‘game’.
Honestly, I’m still confused about this so called ‘game’. Obviously designed with Scarlett in mind, I can’t help but wonder what the whole point of it was. I get the end-game and what they were trying to achieve…but everything in between? What was the actual point of it all?! Every single clue landed in Scarlett’s lap, even though it made no bloody sense why it would. The clues don’t make sense, and to be honest, the answers were a bit of a stretch. What was the point of actually having other participants? Weren’t they worried someone would find Tella before Scarlett? The story was fun in the moment, but as a whole? Meh.
Sigh, I wish I ended up liking this book as much as everyone else. Unfortunately, I just can’t get past the why of this book. There were too many plots of convenience, a lack of world building and 2D characters which contributed to my overall rating. I can see how the author is going to turn this book into a duology, and while I’m curious about some things, I just don’t think I’ll be picking up the sequel when it’s out.