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.
I don’t know, you guys, I’m the black sheep again.
This one just didn’t live up to the hype. I actually really disliked it for the most part and I’m having trouble understanding the hype at all.
Sometimes I dislike books but still understand why people love them, like A Darker Shade of Magic. Those books aren’t bad at all, I was just personally bored by them for some reason. With this though… I think it’s a bad book. If you like it that’s great, I wish I did, but just… no.
To make sure this review won’t be five hundred miles long, I’m just going to do it mostly in list form in the hopes that it will shorten it a little.
But first, in case you didn’t bother reading the long synopsis, here’s the short version. Scarlett and Tella live with their controlling and abusive father. For years since she was a child, Scarlett’s been sending letters to Legend, the master of the legendary Caraval, a magical performance/game that changes locations every year, asking him to please bring Caraval to their island so she can experience the magic. Then suddenly one year, she receives a personal invitation from Legend himself. But once at Caraval, accompanied by a mysterious and hunky sailor, Tella disappears, and Scarlett realizes the game revolves around getting Tella back alive.
Alright, so that’s a pretty interesting premise. A magical game that may or may not have life or death consequences. Alright, I’m on board. But it fell so very flat.
- The beginning was promising, I was into it then. The letters sent to Legend, and then finally the reply. I’m intrigued! But then…
- There’s no worldbuilding. There’s “The Conquered Isles”, but conquered by who? How? When? I don’t remember for sure if these questions were addressed but I’m pretty sure they weren’t
- The characters are one dimensional. I barely know who the main character is at all. I developed no emotional connection to them, so when something bad happened to them I was just like… *shrugs*
- There’s instalove disguised as slow-burn. You guys, just because it takes over half the book for the girl to sort of admit she likes the guy, that doesn’t make it slow-burn. At least not to me. It still takes place in the span of five days, where the first three or so days dislikes/suspects Julian and pushes him away. You want me to believe she’s in love with him at the end of the game? Nah. I’m not convinced. Try again. You know what book(s) does slow-burn really well? The Raven Cycle. Fair enough, it’s a series of four books and thus have more time to develop relationships, but as far as I know Caraval is a duology. There didn’t have to be love after five days, at least when considering how much Julian lied to Scarlett in the span of those five days. Give the girl some time, man.
- At one points towards the end, Scarlett tells Tella (her sister) “You can’t be in love with someone you just met.” ?????? Is she not self-aware at all?
- Plus, Julian is a creep. He keeps coming onto Scarlett despite her clearly pulling away and saying “dude no, I’m engaged.” Their whole relationship, plus their physical descriptions, made me think of things like:
- The writing isn’t terrible, but it was very cringey at times. Like “he tasted like midnight and wind” is too much for me. War flashbacks to Shatter Me.
- I like that Scarlett has synesthesia, I do a little cheer the rare times I see it in books. In her case she associates/sees colors connected to her emotions. I have it too (different kinds though) so it’s just a fun thing to see
- I do like the idea that this is a book about sisters and their strong bond. But is it though or does it just pretend to be?? Sure, the premise of the book is that Scarlett’s sister has been kidnapped at the goal of the game is to find her. But I found the swarmy romance too overbearing, it didn’t have to be there and it took away from the sisterly feel
- It just wasn’t magical enough. It promised me magic, Scarlett spent years writing to Legend about wanting to see his amazing magical performers, but did I get said magic? Not really. There’s a gown that changes with your mood and some Alice in Wonderland-like surrealism (that I’ve never been into personally) and potions that do various things. If you’re a fan of high fantasy and/or complex magic systems, don’t read this. The magic is never really explained or explored
- It’s not clever enough. The clues they get in the game are weak and Scarlett just randomly seems to figure out each clue, like “oh, that must be it!” and I’m just like… that’s all? It’s not going to attempt to be more clever than that?
- I admit I had to laugh when the poem I cringed at in the beginning was at the end referred to as “a poorly written poem”. Well, at least it was intentional?? Or maybe the author just can’t write poetry and had Scarlett describe it as poorly written to cover her ass…
- I’ll also say that while I found myself skimming a lot between the dialogue because I just couldn’t wait for it to be over, it wasn’t slow, which is something that tends to really bring my enjoyment down. Things happened and kept happening, and I guess I can see how that could make you like this book, but again, I didn’t like the way those things happened. Scarlett figured out the clues way too easily and just kept jumping from one event to another
- The last fifty pages, however, are pretty great. I was pleasantly surprised because I loved the plot twist. Finally something truly interesting! I was originally going to give it 2.5 stars instead of 2 for that twist, but then I figured… nah, the road to said twist was too lackluster to deserve it
- Also, does this book really need a map? (answer: no)
In short, Caraval is lackluster and overhyped with cardboard characters and creepy instalove disguised as slow-burn. If you’re a fantasy buff looking for dazzling magic and deadly games, avoid this.
I wanted more magic, less cheesy romance, more sisterhood, and more immersive writing.
Excuse me, Scarlett, but you’ve known this guy for five days and you think it’s a hard choice to decide who to bring back to life, him or your sister, who you have struggled to protect all your life and have spent the entire game desperately trying to save??? Fuck that noise. I know she ultimately says it’s an easy choice and of course she picks Tella, but that doubt still rubbed me the wrong way and only served to really drive that instalove home.
And I’m intrigued to find out who Legend actually is, I don’t mind that we haven’t seen him yet and I like the idea of a villain trying to redeem himself because even he can tell he crossed the line, but he still can’t help himself from messing with people’s heads a little too much. In the right author’s hands I think he could be a superb character.
I’m not sure if I want to read the sequel. Maybe.