- Title: Caraval ( Caraval #1)
- Author: Stephanie Garber
- Publishing Company: Flatiron Books
- Publication Date: January 31st 2017
- Pages: 407
- Rating: 3/5
- Goodreads / Amazon / Waterstones
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 went into Caraval with high expectations waiting to be blown away like so many others were by the book’s content. Despite some good elements of the book though, unfortunately, for me, it ended up being another dreaded case of hyped-up books. Despite having an enjoyable reading experience with Caraval and the whimsical world Stephanie Garber created, I also had key problems with the book that greatly took away from my enjoyment.
The writing was a perfect match to the book’s atmosphere. Garber had a rich and vivid way of telling the story of Caraval and giving life to the world; the description really focused on colors and shades when it came both to the world and people’s emotions which, to my mind, added to the storytelling, giving the tale a more enchanting aura. Stephanie’s tendency to spotlight the color in her world made everything that more lush and animated in my head while also accomplishing the mystifying and magical atmosphere that the story needed.
However, that same focus on colors confused me at times. It is worth noting that the main character, Scarlett, is also able to view her emotions as colors. Initially, I thought this was part of the writing style which I appreciated considering it a lyrical addition. But, later on in the book, there is a scene where Scarlett, after drinking a strange punch that is supposed to make her see things more clearly is, for a moment, able to see Julian’s emotions as well in the form of colors. It gave the impression that she was also magical and that her powers intensified but it was never touched upon again and I was just left confused. I realized it was never clarified if colors were the way she viewed emotions or if she could really see them. The author blurred that line at times throughout the book without giving an explanation. That, for me, left a gap in the story that shouldn’t have been there.
Still, if there is one reason I would want to come back to this story when the sequel Legendary comes out is the world. Isle de los Suenos, as well as Caraval, were full of mystery, peculiar places, magic tricks and questionable strangers. I truly loved every minute I got exploring this unusual world. There is so much more to uncover about Caraval and Legend that I feel we’ve only scraped the surface of what’s really underneath. With that in mind, I can’t wait to revisit this lavish world full of mischief and magic; strangers that tell you what you seek based on which tattoos on their body your eyes linger on, where buying things comes in exchange for answers or days, people go to sleep at sunrise and dresses transform depending on the hour.
Unfortunately, it felt like Gerber spent so much time envisioning the world that she forgot to spare enough for the characters. Scarlett was, to say the least, a disappointing main character. She had wanted to join the Caraval since she was 10 years old and had heard a number of stories about it from her grandmother. And yet, despite the knowledge she had, she was so naïve and trusting during the entire game. She did incredibly stupid things, like sleep in a stranger’s room or trust a person who she knew only 3 days. It was one stupid and rush decision after the other. She also never stopped to enjoy the game. Everyone kept saying it’s a game, a show, and nothing is real but she never acknowledged that.
Adding to that, a character that felt superficial and only there to add to the plot was the sisters’ father. He was portrayed as a strict and overbearing father, a child abuser but his character had no real depth. There was never a reason given for his behavior nor a purpose for it. He was just a necessary villain to help the plot move along and make the sisters more likable while excusing some of their actions.
I would love to actually say that I loved the bond between the sisters but I didn’t really feel it. There was caring and love between them but they lacked in understanding. For example, in the end, Scarlet was left confused and hurt but Tella wasn’t really there for her, it felt like her confusion was brushed off. It also felt sometimes that Scarlett didn’t think that highly of Tella, from the way she was describing her personality. Yet this is not something that I really focused on, there wasn’t much interaction between them during Caraval. I’m hoping that sister bond I was looking for will finally show in Legendary.
Concerning the storytelling, the book had some serious plot holes. We didn’t get answers to a lot of things. Halfway through the book Scarlett heard a woman screaming under the tombs and after a while, she was completely forgotten. We never got an answer to what happened there; if it was one of the ‘props’ or not, and she never asked. At the same time, Caraval was supposed to be a competition between parties, a treasure hunt. Again, while we followed Julian and Scarlett around we only got glimpses of the other competitors; there was never any real mention of them or interaction with them unless they were all in the same room. The competition was non-existent, which was sad because it could have really added to the story. And, at the end, the climax of the story was a bit of a whirlwind; we were just given a bunch of information altogether with no time to really soak it in and then expected to move on from that smoothly.
Lastly, I could have done without the romance. First of all, in the span of just a week full of activity, anxiousness, and mysteries to solve there is no time for a proper romance to develop. The relationship between Julian and Scarlett was completely insta-love, one of my most hated tropes. Scarlett almost immediately showed an attraction towards him even though she had caught him making out with her sister. But even if we ignored that, throughout a book, he continuously proved to be the most untrustworthy person out of all; but she kept trusting him, falling in love with a person she barely knew, who kept disappearing. Their love story left me completely baffled and unsatisfied to be honest.
Overall, Caraval was an enjoyable read and a fascinating idea for a story but it lacked in execution. I think it’s one of those cases that the book needed a bit more work as the world was well developed but the plot and the characters lacked greatly.