Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Paraphrased from Goodreads
Remember, it’s only a game…
Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her 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 faraway, 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. 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. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.
Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.
I enjoyed this book, despite the lowish rating. It was a fairly quick and intriguing read. My feeling is that I agree with the negative reviews on Goodreads, but I still enjoyed reading this book.
Scarlett is an okay main character, but I found myself getting unnecessarily annoyed with her. There were definitely times where something was GLARINGLY obvious and Scarlett would be completely oblivious. And I found she worried incessantly about things she’d already worried about. And she cares SO MUCH about being lied to but like honey you’re in a game where that’s the point? And she was just naïve about too much. I just found her somewhat repetitive.
The other characters weren’t all that great either. Tella is annoying and her only personality trait is to be the Reckless Younger Sister, which isn’t a personality trait. At the end she’s made out to be this great, smart person, but there wasn’t any character building. Julian, the love interest, was your classic YA fantasy romance love interest. Like he was cute and all, but very flat in the end. The villains (the girls’ father, Scarlett’s fiancé) were too clichéd and too much of caricatures to be scary.
I liked the writing style okay enough. It’s written fairly simply but still detailed, if that makes sense. Like I could picture all the scenes, but there wasn’t a lot of flowery language and it wasn’t overly descriptive. It borderlines purple prose and could get annoying, but there wasn’t anything inherently bad about it. It was definitely YA language, which is fine considering this is a YA. I liked the use of colour in this novel too. I thought it was really interesting and added something to Scarlett’s character.
There wasn’t much world-building (see: no world-building) and the reasons for Caraval aren’t really addressed. I would’ve liked a bit more there. The ending was a total cop-out. The characters are literally like “yeah, we don’t really understand who Legend is or how the magic works ¯\_(ツ)_/¯” and that’s all the explanation we get. Which isn’t an explanation at all.
A reviewer on Goodreads put it really well:
Caraval is a fantasy without world-building or significant character development. It relies on its dreamy descriptions, purple prose, and a heavy helping of romance to make it dazzle.
I definitely agree with the statement, but I was okay with it for the most part? I went in to this book with relatively low expectations, not because it wasn’t interesting or that I had heard bad things about it, but just because I didn’t necessarily expect amazing things from it. That expectation was exceeded, but not by a large margin, if that makes sense?
Also one kind of side note: I’ve heard this book be compared to the Night Circus, and having loved TNC, I can tell you that Caraval is nowhere near the Night Circus. God, TNC is an experience. Like it’s so good and I loved every bit of it. But Caraval fell flat for the most part, and I can’t compare them.
I think my overall feeling is it was a good and interesting idea with poor characters but I still read it and enjoyed it? Does that make sense? I liked it and it held my attention the whole way through and I wanted to read it, I just wasn’t blown away. I’m also somewhat peeved about the end (see: my annoyance with YAs that don’t need to be series) but I’ll probably continue reading the series? If I ever get around to it.
Thanks for reading! Let me know if you’ve read this book and your thoughts! xx