Title: Caraval (Caraval #1)
Author: Stephanie Garber
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Pages: Hardcover; 407
Release Date: January 31, 2017
Content Screening: Mild Violence
HDB Rating: 2 Keys to My Heart
Recommended to: Readers who are willing to be swept away, but aren't sticklers for intense world or character building.
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
Unfortunately, I was not as impressed with Caraval as I expected to be. Which, trust me, shocked me just as much as it might shock you. Books like this, with themes of magic and intrigue are usually my bread and butter. I wholly expected to be swept away by this story. If Caraval had spent more time with the world building and character building, instead of so much time with sweeping purple prose, I really think this would have been a winner for me. More on that below.
First off, Scarlett is a tough character to love. Although I adored her connection with her sister, and applauded her fierce protectiveness, there wasn't much else about Scarlett that endeared her to me. She was frustrating, to say the least. I absolutely don't mind a character who puts others above themselves, especially when it comes to family. However the lack of character development in this case drove me mad. Scarlett barely learned. She barely grew. She made the same mistakes over and over, while lamenting her situation instead of doing something about it. I was only just starting to see a spark of a woman who might have gained something from all of this, when the book ended.
My other big issue, as I mentioned above, was that no real love was given to the world that Scarlett and her sister inhabited. From the island that they felt imprisoned on, to the surrounding islands, all the way out to Caraval itself, all of it was just implied. Here is an island. It holds magic. This man who has a lot of power, due to a very quickly told backstory, holds a game here that you might win a wish out of. Done, and done. I was given only the briefest glimpse into anything, even when Scarlett was running all over the game itself. Again, frustrating. I'd have loved to see much less purple prose, and much more actual description. I wanted the world brought to life for me, and I truly believe it would have helped massively.
I believe I truly understand why a lot of people adore this book. The concept of a magical island, the idea of a game that pushes the very folds of reality, is a fascinating thing. If only it had been more fleshed out, and given much more attention, I would have fallen in love too. My Fantasy driven mind demands a foothold in any new book I read. A place that is described beautifully enough that I can find myself there in an eyeblink. Caraval lacked that for me, and so the story just felt flat.
FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.