Caraval (Caraval #1)
By Stephanie Garber
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Whatever 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.
Caraval.. Caraval.. Caraval. Let’s just get to it.
This is the story of two sisters who have been terribly abused by their father for far too long. The years following the disappearance of their mother lead to much heartache and distress as their sadistic, dear old dad decides to begin punishing the two girls in more than concerning and cruel ways. Scarlett is the oldest, diligently watching over Tella. Through years of perverse and brutal treatment, it seems the one consistent joy was stories of Legend and his Caraval, as told by their nana.
Caraval is a travelling performance that involves the audience directly in a game led by the elusive and said to be magical, Legend. The show never performs in the same location twice and occurs just once a year. Longing for an invitation and taste of the magic, Scarlett writes to Legend year after year with no response. Then it finally happens. Her invitations arrive. But how can she possibly risk leaving and disobeying their father who would never allow their attendance? The consequences could be deadly.
Scarlett holds 3 tickets: one for herself, one for her mysterious betrothed, and one for her sister Tella. But fate has other plans. She soon finds herself in the middle of Caraval’s newest game with a young stranger by the name of Julian, searching desperately for Tella in hopes of returning home before her father is able to solve their disappearance. Time is of the essence for multiple reasons. And so our story begins..
Like many readers, I will also mention and admit that the promises of a story reminiscent to The Night Circus and a travelling carnival drew me in. I have been caught on more than one occasion singing the praise of Morgenstern’s beloved tale. It is a top read for me. So perhaps part of Caraval’s downfall was through my own fault. I entered with a pretense that was unfair to the story and the author. I did not find anything remotely familiar to The Night Circus, aside from a magical performance. And why should I have? This is someone else’s story. But none the less, I was already disappointed. I made a comparison I should not have.. tsk tsk.
It is hard to sum up a title you did not enjoy very well when you know you are going up against several contradictory factors:
- I have literally only read one negative review (this book is loved).
- I was able to actually finish this in one sitting.
- The writing is solid and on par.
So yeah, everyone aside from myself and one other individual seem to find this lovely book to be a masterpiece. And I truly wanted to join in on that. Who doesn’t want to read incredible books?! We don’t flip through the shelves looking for shitty ones. Do I feel that Caraval was terrible? No, not at all. I can even greatly appreciate the reasons it has connected with so many readers.
Here is what I enjoyed..
- This book is beautiful. The chosen cover and illustrated letters throughout only enhance the experience and add to the “magic”. A very aesthetic read has been created that I would be crazy to not acknowledge and find value in.
- Garber’s writing is incredibly fluid. I know I may be guilty of using that term too often, but you could literally slap her picture next to it in the dictionary. This story unfolded with tremendous ease. I read 400 pages in an hour and a half!
- The concept is full of ingenuity. I fell in love with the idea of an enigmatic, moving performance where attendees were actually part of a game.
- The world building! If anything had a chance to be Caraval’s salvation, it was this. I have already mentioned that Garber can write. She spared no expense with constructing a whimsical and completely inviting atmosphere for the reader.
Why this ultimately resulted in a mediocre experience for me..
- I failed to connect with a single character. Scarlett and Tella both hit so many nerves for so many reasons that it became very clear there would never be a fondness. Scarlett was weak in the worst way. The supporting characters offered me even less. I either hated them for the obvious (an abusive father).. or was left searching for any sort of crumb. They were vague and offered no true depth.
- Fluff! This is where it fell through for me. Every description was about color. And everything tasted like color.. Color.. color..color. It just went on and on at some points. Maybe I lack creativity, because I have no freaking clue what blue tastes like! There were just too many details that could have been omitted without damaging the story. I feel like this could have been stripped down to just under 300 pages and still accomplished the mission successfully.
- I expected more magic! The environment was ripe with fantasy. As I mentioned, she built an amazing world within Caraval. It felt completely under utilized at times. I was waiting for those big exciting moments, and it turns out they just weren’t too exciting.
- That little drawn out love/hate relationship. I am not going to spoil this one, but I promise you will figure it out soon enough. It didn’t work for me, too cliché.
- Last but least, the ending. Oh endings, how you make or break a book so easily. I found that while there were some surprises, as it all fell in place, that dreaded predictability snuck right in. Bastard! I was less than thrilled with the conclusion. So that was the final bad note.
So here is why I am going to give this book more stars than you might expect: I think I am struggling with YA in general. I still have a few YA titles lined up, but I find that the genre is agreeing with me less and less. So I am giving back a few points in the name of fair. I can understand without effort, why this book is popular among fans of YA Fantasy right now, and I have some serious respect for the author’s writing. With that being said, is this for me? No, sadly it is not. Do I think you will enjoy this? If you are a fan of YA Fantasy, and enjoy “colorful” details, it is certainly worth a peek. Do I expect to get some very disagreeable feedback? Of course 😉
*Special thanks to the lovely Amy ❤
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