Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Published by Flatiron Books on January 31st 2017
Series: Caraval #1
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Length: 407 pages Source: OwlCrate
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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. 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. 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 really, really, really wanted to like this book. I was so excited when I got it in my OwlCrate back in February! Everything everyone was saying about this book was sparklers and fireworks and spellbinding magic. A lot of it still is! There were certainly aspects of this book that I enjoyed, but overall, it just wasn’t for me.
I immediately disliked all of the characters. I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of them. They were too flat and quickly changing for my tastes. Dontella’s characterization was immediately selfish and foolish whereas Scarlett was so self-righteous and panicky. I just… didn’t like them. For me, that ruins a book quicker than anything else.
This, surely, is personal to me as a reader. There are others who go into stories with other motives, but if I don’t like the characters, I usually don’t like the book.
Caraval itself was interesting. Stephanie Garber uses a lot of flowery imagery, and some of her word choices are lovely, but unfortunately, she uses this mostly to describe the men in the book and not the universe of it. I didn’t start getting a visual sense of Caraval until easily over the halfway point. Once I did, I found the illusory world very interesting, and wished that there was more interaction with it.
This story was about Scarlett running around like a chicken with her head cut off, stumbling into the right answers, and whining about needing to leave to get to her wedding on time. Moreover, all the twists I was looking for didn’t happen, and the fact they didn’t happen was explained away as something far less scandalous and interesting. Everything felt really disjointed, and put simply, I was BORED. I feel like Garber had a really excellent idea here with the Caravel itself, but there was FAR too little Caraval-ing and far too much swooning and running-away-from-dad. But she gets a star for the CONCEPT, because like I said – cool idea.
Writing / Narration
NOOOoooooo. If you like pretty, flowy prose and need no semblance of plot, then this book is probably for you. I happen to like pretty prose, but REQUIRE plot. Also, the sunshine and daffodils of her writing were entirely focused on two items: Julian’s attractive manly features, and Scarlett’s dresses. I am 100% confident that she could have evened out the writing a bit and done better.
Also, repeatedly, “their mother, Paloma, abandoned them”? I got it the first three times, thanks. And she wasn’t very relevant to this book, either. I understand that Garber is trying to garner reader interest in this disappearance for an upcoming plot, but obvious much?
I just didn’t like it. I know a lot of people do, and I can see why: there’s romance and Victorian dresses and private islands with mind games and fortune tellers – the works. Disliking the characters and finding the plot too flighty were my main issues with this book, but it’s definitely the sort of thing that would appeal to other readers.
I will probably pick up the second book, but not in a hurry, and I wouldn’t buy it.
“Hope is a powerful thing. Some say it’s a different breed of magic altogether. Elusive, difficult to hold on to. But not much is needed.”
“He tasted like midnight and wind, and shades of rich brown and light blue. Colors that made her feel safe and guarded.”
Books I’d Recommend
If you’re looking for another book with magic and festivals, might I suggest Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody or The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern? For something a little more twisted and a little more mature, Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. Hamilton would do as well. For an innocent tale of sisterly love and rescue, The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine is one of my childhood favorites.