Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

caravalAbout Caraval

• Series: Caraval (#1)
• Paperback:
 407 pages
• Published: January 2017 by Flatiron Books
• Source: Purchased

Goodreads DescriptionWhatever 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.

My Thoughts

This book was exhausting.

Caraval is the story of two sisters, Scarlett and Donatella (Tella), who live with their abusive father. Scarlett is engaged to a Count she’s never met, but is convinced will save her and Tella from their father. Then there’s Caraval. Caraval is a game, sort of like a scavenger hunt, that’s hosted by a magician named Legend. As a child, Scarlett wanted nothing more for Legend to bring Caraval to her home island so she and Tella could see the spectacle. After 7 years of writing letters, Legend finally responds – with tickets for Scarlett, her fiance, and Tella to come to Caraval to play the game. The only problem is, Scarlett’s wedding is a week away, and if she goes to Caraval she might not get home in time to marry the Count. Of course, Tella thinks going to Caraval will solve all their problems, so she kidnaps Scarlett (with the help of an attractive sailor named Julian) and carts her off to Caraval.

Nothing goes to plan, but long story short, Tella ends up being the treasure Scarlett has to search for during the game, and if she wins, she’ll get a wish – and presumably, her freedom.

I’m so sad to say – this book was just not for me. Perhaps if I’d read it six or seven years ago, I’d have felt differently. But it’s so angsty, so repetitive, and so just plain irritating, that I found myself sighing and rolling my eyes more than enjoying it.

The biggest problem for me was Scarlett – which is pretty key, since she’s the main character and all. For the first 200 or so pages, every third thought she has is either, “I must save my sister,” “I must make it home for my wedding,” or “I can’t share a room with Julian because I must marry the Count.” Around page 200, she gets slightly better – now, every third thought becomes, “I must win the game,” “I must not be afraid,” or “Julian has made me realize I don’t want to marry someone I’ve never met.”

I wish I was exaggerating.

Honestly, the only character I found even remotely tolerable was Julian himself, simply because he basically tells Scarlett to man up and stop being a whiny brat.

What makes it even worse, is that the idea for Caraval was great. Garber did a decent job building the world of Caraval, incorporating just enough magic to make the story, well, magical. There are brief moments where the story takes center stage over the character drama, and that’s what kept me reading. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of elements that don’t really make sense – Scarlett “sees” emotions as colors, but I’m still not sure what the purpose of that is. In a lot of ways, the whole idea of “it’s just a game” doesn’t really work, and that isn’t explained either. For me, these holes (among others) made it difficult to fully buy into the story and the world of Caraval, unlike some of the stronger YA fantasy novels out there.

That said, I did finish the book – and while I don’t heartily recommend it, I do think there’s an audience who will love it. Where I found Scarlett annoying, others might find her loyal and determined. What I saw as a lack of detail, others might see as magical.

Final verdict? It’s a quick read with a gorgeous cover, and with all the hype this one’s getting, worth a shot if this genre is your thing…..but don’t expect to be blown away.

2 stars