Series: Caraval #1
Published by Flatiron Books on 2017-01-31
Genres: fantasy, Young Adult
Source: a Giveaway
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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.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that Caraval is coming out and that EVERYBODY wants it. I remember at BEA, it was THE BOOK to get. Well, that and Heartless. There were crazy crowds and I wasn’t able to get one because I wasn’t willing to put myself in harms way for a book but I was lucky enough to win a giveaway that included an ARC of this and I literally jumped for joy when it came. And I didn’t wait too long to read it either. I was in a sort of rut around the election and hadn’t read anything for at least a week. So I picked up a highly anticipated novel hoping to jump-start my desire to read (or really do anything productive). Everybody was loving the book so there really was zero chance that I wouldn’t, too. Right?
Well, of course, I suck. I shouldn’t be surprised by now that I’m once again the black sheep on a highly anticipated, loved by all who’ve already read it, new release. It’s happened before. So much even that I worried I was subconsciously deciding not to love it. But every time I think back to the book, I realize that’s just not true. I just don’t love it. I wish I did. I wish I could just gush hundreds of words about how amazing and unique and suspenseful and magical it was but I just didn’t feel those things. So I’ll try to briefly explain why I didn’t love it and then we can all move on.
First of all, I really didn’t like Scarlett and Tella’s relationship. We’re told that Scarlett loves her sister more than anything but to me, their relationship felt like it came more from duty than from pure love. Scarlett tries to protect her sister from everything, especially their abusive father, but I never actually felt like she really knew or even wanted to know who her sister was or what she actually wanted from life. And I’m not sure I ever actually felt love from Tella for Scarlett at any point during the book. Except maybe near the very end. To me they felt like two sisters who were just sisters, not bonded together by love and respect and friendship or anything else you might expect from two people who are suppose to love each other more than anything. So their whole quest and purpose in the game ended up feeling almost forced rather than truly organic.
As for the game itself, I was really hoping for more here. I can understand wanting to protect your sister out of duty if not love but this game was suppose to be everything for this book. It was suppose to be magical and suspenseful and full of twists and turns and untrustworthy characters etc. But I didn’t really get any of that. Once you enter Caraval, there are literally no rules. Except in order to “win” the game, you’re given clues that you need to figure out and follow to get the next one and eventually get to the end. But because there are no rules, clues can mean different things. So really, there is no straight line to the end and anything can mean anything so whatever the author wants to do, she can. There’s no way for readers to know what’s happening or figure out for themselves what the clues mean without being explicitly told what Scarlett thinks the clue means. And for me as a reader, I just don’t like that setup. I want to be able to follow the clues and figure out what they mean and where they lead along with the main character. I don’t just want the main character coming up with something random and putting meaning to it. Or some random player coming in to show her the way because she’s being stupid. Because in the end, it feels like none of it mattered anyway. Like she could have figured them out or not and the author would have just made up some other reason for her to win or lose. And I want things to matter and make sense and have a purpose. I don’t like Wonderland and this felt much too close to Wonderland for me to actually enjoy it. If you do like worlds similar to Wonderland without any sort of rules or reasons, then you will probably love Caraval. But for me, it created a world without purpose or suspense or thrills or any real emotion.
Along those same lines, I had a horrible time feeling connected to any of the characters because I never actually knew who they were. Specifically Julian and Dante, who we meet for the game. We are told not to trust anyone and not to believe anything in the game or take any of it too seriously. But we’re obviously suppose to make some sort of emotional connection with some of the characters because if we don’t, then it all means nothing. But we don’t actually know who anyone is, what their purpose in the game is, if they’re even players themselves or part of the actual game, or what their names even are. How am I suppose to feel a connection to characters when I literally know nothing about them and am suppose to believe that everything they are doing is not real or trustworthy? So mostly, I didn’t feel much for the characters. Which for me, pretty much means there’s no chance I’ll end up loving the actual book. And that was pretty unfortunate because in the end, I can see why becoming attached to some of them was important for the story. Maybe if you don’t have such a hard time trusting people in real life, this will all work out better for you than it did for me.
I did end up liking the story okay when it was over but I definitely did not love it. The last quarter of the book really picked up and the plot finally moved along quickly but before that, it was just a lot of nonsense game stuff that really didn’t have a lot of purpose to me. If the entire book had been full of the tension I felt in the last part, I think I might have loved it. I do think this could be a big hit with the younger YA crowd. I don’t know exactly why, maybe it was the giant font in my ARC and the lack of true tension throughout, but it did feel geared to a slightly younger audience. I am happy to see books like this releasing and I hope people will love it. It’s almost like a Wonderland/The Maze Runner mash-up. And maybe if you loved those books and settings like those, you really will love this book as well.