TRIGGER WARNING (HIGHLIGHT WORDS BELOW):
Physical abuse. Non-consensual kissing/groping. Apparent suicide.
Series: Caraval #1
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release date: January 31st 2017
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.
“It’s all a game.”
Caraval has a very unique and intriguing premise, but sadly fails in its execution. The cover is beautiful and the writing is pretty, but both are not enough to make this a 5-star novel. The story is fast-paced and action packed, but the characters are not developed, the world-building is unformed and vague, and the main character is rather dull.
Stephanie Garber shows a lot of potential as a writer. The way she describes emotions is lovely, and the concept of Caraval is captivating and thrilling. Unfortunately, everything else falls flat on its face. The relationship between the sisters, which is supposed to be the main element of this story, barely scratches the surface. Instead, that relationship — and pretty much all of the world-building, plus some of the plot — gets sidelined in favor of… instalove!
One of the main problems I had with this book were the characters. Most of them are underdeveloped and flat, seeming like carbon copies of each other. The main character, Scarlett, is that kind of heroine that lets fear control her, which means most of the time she just lets things happen to her without fighting back. I do have one favorite, though, who managed to steal my heart: Aiko. I’m sure you’ll understand why if/when you read the book.
I can’t stress enough that there is very, very little world-building in this. Garber spends a lot of time describing dresses, which is nice I suppose, but the place in which Scarlett and Tella live barely gets any mention at all. The Caraval kind of follows the same line. We know what the Caraval is, and we know there is some powerful magic in it, but we never get an explanation about how things work, and we don’t get a lot of descriptions about what everything looks like. And when the author does attempt to offer some kind of answer, it is quickly mentioned in a couple of lines and then completely brushed off in favor of other things.
The same can be said about the sisterly relationship, which we are promised is the focus on the novel. It is very obvious from the beginning that Scarlett loves her sister, Tella, but they spend barely any time together and interacting. The focus of the story quickly shifts to Scarlett’s relationship with the Bad Boy: Julian.
The instalove in this… so strong. The timeline spans over the course of a few days, in which Scarlett participates in the Caraval with Julian. The feelings that develop between them and the fast-pace of their relationship is very hard to buy. Scarlett, in a conversation with her sister that made me facepalm, actually ends up perfectly describing my feelings on this (highlight for quote/spoiler):
“You can’t be in love with someone you just met.”
There are also a lot of twists and turns and convoluted plans that sometimes don’t make sense with the little background information we’ve been given. There are a lot of threads to follow, which at times can be a little fun, and some of them do leave you on the edge of your seat. The epilogue is actually a great example of that, with its mysterious and intriguing ending.
But overall, Caraval falls into the bad side of over-hyped to me. Its lack of world-building and character development, and its focus on romantic love instead of sisterly love make this a disappointing read. I will say that fans of Alice in Wonderland and The Night Circus will probably enjoy this, although you should definitely except something more like the former.