Published by Flatiron Books on January 10th 2017
Source: Author Review Copy
Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy & Magic
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Before you enter the world of Caraval, you must remember that it’s all a game . . .
Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their ruthless father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the legendary, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.
Then, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation to Caraval finally arrives. So, Tella enlists a mysterious sailor’s help to whisk Scarlett away to this year’s show. But as soon as the trio arrives, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend.
Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nonetheless soon becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with her sister, with Legend, and 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’m coming in with a review that will take another perspective of a well-loved book. It’s true that I enjoyed it (seeing as my rating on Goodreads is that of “liking” it), but the expectations I had coming into the book somewhat dimmed that overall feeling. Caraval is every bit as spellbinding as is advertised in the inner covers. You’ll also find plenty of accolades from big name authors whose books are immensely popular. It’s true that my eyes stayed glued on its pages and devoured the story (I read it in one sitting). But the fact remains that I also had problems with some parts of the story – especially towards the end. So I’d advise you guys to grab some cake, sit back, and continue on with this review that’ll offer a different look on this hyped book.
Before reading it myself, all I had seen were four and five star reviews on how utterly enchanting the book is. I came in after reading how it was compared positively to The Night Circus (a book I dearly love and hold close to my heart) and other popular, magical reads. This was a wrong thing to do, because now I have these expectations and high standards that tainted my overall read. Anyways, I hope you’ve grabbed your cake. Or at least your imaginary cake. Here, have some virtual cake maybe. *hands cake*
First bite – exciting. I really love marble cake (because hello, chocolate AND vanilla? Totally the best of both worlds). And that was definitely me when first starting this book – excited. Scarlett has been writing letters to the master of Caraval, a magical performance where the audience actually participates, and begging him to visit her and her sister Tella. Legend, the master’s name, finally indulges her after the seventh letter and sends them tickets to visit his private island. Straight from the beginning we get hints of a charming sisterly love and superb characterizations. While Scarlett’s character is cautious and reserved, Tella is much more outgoing and does reckless things. The sisters provide a nice foil against each other’s personality and work to protect each other from their abusive father.
Second bite – delicious. This time we’re whisked away to Legend’s private island, where Scarlett becomes a player in the game of Caraval. At her side is a sailor with secrets named Julian, and they all too soon discover that to win the game, they have to find Tella, who is kept hostage. When we first enter the island, I was delighted to see the enchanting tidbits that it had to offer. Scarlett quickly discovers that not everything she sees is true in the game, and to not trust everyone. She’s given a series of clues that will lead her to her sister. But here’s the thing: the more I read of the game, the more it continued to lose its luster and shine. Instead of seeing an enchanting game, I saw these random enchantments coming together in a loose basis of a game. The only rule I could glean was that players had to find their clues at night and had to be back in their rooms in the day. Other than that, everything else was up for grabs.
Third slice – boring. Alright, I know third slice is a huge jump but I’m keeping it for the metaphor’s sake. Like I said, the game wasn’t as fun as it could have been. I as a reader felt very detached from it. There are other players that are mentioned, but they didn’t have anything to do with the story at all. In fact as I neared the end of the story, I found their additions quite meaningless and unnecessary. They hardly contributed to the plot and I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of them. Because of that aspect though, it seemed like the game was made for Scarlett and Tella and them alone. Once you realize that the magic and performance was only made for these major characters, it kind of loses its charm in a way. The length of the book is almost 400 pages, but I felt myself dragging in the middle. It seemed like Scarlett was going through a series of worthless clues and dead ends without gaining anything, which just made for useless pages of imaginative tidbits. Granted, they were still fun to read about, but in retrospect really quite meaningless.
The world of this story is casually talked about in a couple of sentences. In fact, it was so casual that I forgot most of it except the fact that Scarlett and Tella’s father is really rich but wants to marry Scarlett off to a noble to get that respect. I didn’t mind since much of the book happened in the island, but even the magic doesn’t get a proper explanation. The revelations explained later in the story didn’t help on that aspect and the game itself just seemed so meaningless if there weren’t a scene that showed how people had fun in it. But that scene was a page or so long and was quickly forgotten over the numerous other pages that had Scarlett searching for clues that led nowhere. I found my eyes hurrying over the words so I could see what exactly would come next, not because of anticipation, but because of impatience.
Despite this impatience for the plot, I did highly admire the character growth that we saw in Scarlett. She enters the island as a prudent girl who doesn’t really take risks or seek out adventure. However, an adventure still searches her out (whether she wants it or not) and she finds herself falling head first into it. She discovers what it’s like to truly let go, to seek out her innermost feelings, and even finds love, all the while looking for her sister.
‘It is not fate, it is simply the future observing that which we crave the most. Every person has the power to change their fate if they are brave enough to fight for what they desire more than anything.’
Scarlett’s love for her sister Tella stays steady and sure throughout the book, which I thought was so sweet. Sibling relationships always get to me, and this one really struck me in the heart. Each sister cared so much and really looked out for the other. It’s a love that would carry the sisters throughout heartbreaking moments.
But when it came to Tella, she’d do whatever she had to, even it if meant giving up the last thing she still dreamed about.
There is an additional romance that is added that was just as heartfelt as the sister relationship. It’s a slow to develop attraction that continues on with a steady pace as Scarlett starts to get to know more of the mysterious sailor that helps her and her sister out. At first she’s wary of him and thinks of him as a selfish scoundrel. But his actions later on in the story show otherwise, and her heart begins to open for him as well.
But the moment I reached the near end of the book, the cake that was so delectable in the beginning began to lose its flavor. It’s the feeling where one event or explanation just completely undermines the rest of the events that took place in the previous pages of the book. One thing that resonates for me as a reader is the climax and denouement of a story, and the climax in Caraval that began as sharp and exciting gradually leveled off as being weak, with hints of a deus ex machina. Yes, it definitely tied in with the rest of the story, but the explanations were just too much for me. Not only did it lessen my exciting for the climax, but also added a bit of a disappointing feel to the whole story overall. But again, it’s a bit of a personal preference for me because I know other readers will find it satisfying – maybe I’m just a picky
cake eater reader sometimes.
Funny thing is, I really was eating a slice of cake while reading through the middle of this book. Anyways, Caraval definitely has a unique blend of magic and immense character growth that highlights love of all kinds, no matter if it’s for a sister or a love interest. But I’d still recommend readers – especially ones that are wary of hype – to come in with no expectations in regards to the game and plot. For me, the characters took the stage while the plot was the background that changed to the author’s whims. Instead of taking my breath away, the magic that was featured – left unexplained – made my lips twist in half-confusion, half-exasperation. An open-ended ending leaves room for anticipation for a sequel, which I will definitely be picking up. I’d still recommend for readers to try out this book, despite my slight problems. Hopefully my review has provided with some points that offer a different view from the numerous five star ones!
Rating: 3.5 out of 5