5 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Title: Caraval

Author: Stephanie Garber

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance

Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication Date: January 31, 2017
Hardcover: 416 Pages

Caraval

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.

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a planned series

How did I get this book: eARC from the Publisher via NetGalley

Format (e- or p-): ebook

Review

Welcome, gentle readers, to Caraval–a secluded game, on a secluded island, that is invitation-only, wherein invitees can choose to play for the chance at winning a Magical Wish, or watch from the (relative) safety of the crowd. Scarlett Dragna, of the conquered isle of Trisda, has been writing to Master Legend, gameskeeper and runner of Caraval, for all of her life. Finally, a fortnight before her wedding (to a betrothed count she’s never met), Scarlett receives a response from Legend himself, inviting her and her fiancee to join the next showing of Caraval–which starts in three days.

Scarlett has lived in fear for most her life–fear of her father and his cruelty, fear of the past, fear for her future and her sister’s well-being. Thus, though she’s excited that she has finally been invited to join the revelry, she knows she cannot risk missing her wedding–the one chance of safety and security from her father that she has. Scarlett’s vivacious and risk-taking sister Donatella, however, has other plans; soon Scarlett, Tella, and a roguish sailor boy, Julian, find themselves enmeshed in Caraval. Scarlett will stop at nothing to save her sister from the clutches of the game, but her resolve regarding her future and the true desires of her heart start unraveling the longer she plays the game…

Oh, Caraval. I truly wanted to like you. I wanted to be swept away in your magic and revelry, I wanted to experience the magic of an island-bound night circus of wonder (not to be confused with The Night Circus, though certainly Caraval tries its best to emulate Morgenstern’s atmosphere of danger and magic). I wanted to feel the pure strength of a bond between sisters, the pull of undeniable attraction between Scarlett and… whichever boy she ends up choosing.

Unfortunately, for me, Caraval does not quite live up to expectation. This is a book about two sisters, magic, and bargains struck to unimaginable ends–it has already of the basic pieces that should make the novel an irresistible success. The execution of these elements is where Caraval fails–for me, personally, the book is pedestrian YA PG-rated romance, featuring a beautiful and rich young heroine who, while has ample cause of fear and distrust of the world, is so mindnumbingly boring and predictable to read that I kept putting this book down.

With that said, Caraval isn’t without its high points. I love that the novel’s central premise and driving force is focused on two very different sisters, and their desire to protect one another from their father’s abusive and controlling behavior, ever since their mother left. Scarlett, our main POV narrator and heroine, lives in fear of her father. When she slips up by lying, or staying out too late, her father hits Tella while forcing Scarlett to watch (and vice versa). Scarlett grows up in this toxic and abusive environment, and as such her main priorities as a character focus on safety and love–two of the things she yearns for deeply, especially yearns to provide for her sister. This, if nothing else, comes through as a major driving force in Scarlett’s decisions throughout the novel.

While these aspects of the book are handled beautifully, frustratingly it is with the writing, overall plotting, and world building that things fall apart. We are told multiple times by Scarlett that her sister is the most important thing to her–sadly, the sisters are separated for the meat of the story and we have nothing upon which to base these claims. It doesn’t help that at practically every turn early in the novel, Scarlett makes several decisions that contradict this driving motivation–not that I fault Scarlett for her personal drive outside of her sister, but it became tedious to read the same patterns of guilt x obligation ad nauseam. (I love a flawed and unreliable narrator, but without any examination or unpacking of these issues either in character arc or story makes for a very frustrating read.)

These character problems are further compounded by writing style–although I should note that I was reading an ARC, the repetition level was ridiculously high. (The phrases “I just want to find my sister and get home in time for my wedding” or “my greatest desire is to find my sister” are repeated throughout the text. so. many. times.) The attraction between Scarlett and Julian–whose hilarious joke is to call Scarlett Crimson–also feels entirely predictable and manufactured. (One favorite scene has Scarlett blurting out–under magical influence–“I think he’s the most attractive person I’ve ever seen.” Oh, the passion.) More egregiously, the actual plotting and twists to the story–the game of Caraval itself–don’t make much sense. The entire novel revolves around a single mystery given to all of the players of the game, which doesn’t rhyme (though seems like it should) and has little reason. For example, the first clue turns out to be Scarlett’s abducted sister, followed by the second clue “CLUE NUMBER TWO YOU’LL DISCOVER IN THE RUBBLE OF HER DEPARTURE”–which Scarlett bungles hopelessly, but the ONE scrap of material she’s able to salvage opens the door to clue number three. Which brings me to the largest problem with Caraval: the fact that the world, and the rules for magic, are incredibly arbitrary, cavalier, and exceptions are made atop exceptions as the story goes on. There’s a lovely deus ex machina at the end of the novel to take any residual edge off of the book–because MAGIC! MAGIC! can solve everything.

Ultimately, I wasn’t impressed with this book. I know there’s a voracious audience for it, and I’m certain it resonates with others. For me? Not so much.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter One:

It took seven years to get the letter right.

*

Year 50, Elantine Dynasty

Dear Mister Caraval Master,

My name is Scarlett, but I’m writing this letter for my sister, Tella. It’s going to be her birthday soon and she would very much like to see you and your amazing Caraval players. Her birthday is the 37th day of the Growing Season and it would be the most wonderfulest birthday ever if you came.

Most hopefully,

Scarlett, from the Conquered Isle of Trisda

*

Year 51, Elantine Dynasty

Dear Mister Caraval Master,

It’s Scarlett again. Did you get my last letter? This year my sister says she’s too old to celebrate birthdays, but I think she’s just upset you never came to Trisda. This Growing Season she’ll be ten and I’ll be eleven. She won’t admit it but she’d still very much like to see you and your wondrous Caraval players.

Most hopefully,

Scarlett, from the Conquered Isle of Trisda

*

Year 52, Elantine Dynasty

Dear Caraval Master Legend,

I’m sorry I got your name wrong in those other letters. I hope that’s not why you haven’t come to Trisda. My little sister’s birthday wasn’t the only reason I’ve wanted you to bring your amazing Caraval players here, I’d love to see them too.

Sorry this letter is short, my father will be angry if he catches me writing to you.

Most hopefully,

Scarlett, from the Conquered Isle of Trisda

*

Year 52, Elantine Dynasty

Dear Caraval Master Legend,

I just heard the news and I wanted to send my condolences. Even though you still haven’t come to Trisda or responded to any of my letters, I know you’re not a murderer. I was very sorry to hear you won’t be traveling for a while.

Most kindly,

Scarlett, from the Conquered Isle of Trisda

*

Year 55, Elantine Dynasty

Dear Master Legend,

Do you remember me, Scarlett, from the Conquered Isle of Trisda? I know it’s been a few years since I wrote. I heard you and your players have started performing again. My sister told me you never visit the same place twice, but a lot has changed since you visited here fifty years ago, and I truly don’t believe anyone would like to see one of your performances more than I would.

Most hopefully,

Scarlett

*

Year 56, Elantine Dynasty

Dear Master Legend,

I heard you visited the capital of the Southern Empire last year and changed the color of the sky. Is that true? I actually tried attending with my sister, but we’re not supposed to leave Trisda. Sometimes I believe I’ll never go farther than the Conquered Isles. I suppose that’s why I’ve wanted you and your players to come here so badly. It’s probably futile to ask again, but I do hope you’ll consider coming.

Most hopefully,

Scarlett, from the Conquered Isle of Trisda

*

Year 57, Elantine Dynasty

Dear Master Legend,

This will be my final letter. I’m going to be married soon. So it’s probably best you and your players don’t come to Trisda this year.

Scarlett Dragna

*

Year 57, Elantine Dynasty

Dear Scarlett Dragna, from the Conquered Isle of Trisda—

Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials. I am sorry I cannot bring my players to Trisda. We’re not traveling this year. Our next performance is by invitation only, but I would look forward to meeting you and your fiancé if you could find a way to leave your isle and join us. Please accept the enclosed as a gift.

From the pen of Caraval Master Legend

You can read a full excerpt online here.

Rating: 5 – Meh

Buy the Book:

12 Comments

  • Anisha @ Sprinkled Pages
    January 25, 2017 at 6:04 am

    Sorry to hear you didn’t love this book! I’m going to be reading this book soon so hopefully I do end up enjoying it, fingers crossed!

  • Moore
    February 1, 2017 at 4:24 am

    I also did not like this book, therefore, I agree with the author of the article! So do not waste your best time on this book! To author a question where you would advise to look for Top quality art history writing ?

  • Ad Astra Blog
    February 6, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    Thanks for the review. I was thinking of picking this book up, but I guess I’ll read some of my other books on my list.

  • Overhyped and disappointing: Stephanie Garber – Caraval – SFF Book Reviews
    February 13, 2017 at 12:02 am

    […] The Book Smugglers (rated it “meh”) […]

  • Robert Elder
    March 10, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    I have never disagreed with a review as much as I have yours. A review is nothing more then ones opinion, which you are entitled to. Its a shame that people take a review so literally and think oh I won’t read this now simply because you gave it a bad review. There are many great reviews out there about Caraval. I am one who loved this book.

  • Caesar
    April 2, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    I just finished reading this book (a minute ago on kindle .. i read this book because this book is so hype in instagram feed.

    So here is my thoughts why i also dislike this book:

    I love the plot at first book, but as the story goes, especially when scarlett and julian arrives at the island, the magic itself that makes the story quite confusing – i often have to read several times for imagined what magic stephanie garber try to tell –

    Why does Julian have to called Scarlett as Crimson? What does stephanie garber want? Scarlett or Crimson? I think stephanie garber better using the name crimson from the start because scarlett reminds me with scarlett character from Lunar Chronicles.

    For me, this book is so overhyped and its not that good. I prefer Lunar Chronicles by stephanie meyer or Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. *Thank god this book only comes in one book, not a trilogy.

    The only reason i keep reading this book until the end is because of my curiosity about who Legend is , besides he is a brother to one of Caraval players (try my best not to drop a spoiler here) and yes, i still didnt know who Legend is until the end. What does he look like? What does he want?

    NB: To owner of thebooksmugglers : at the end of the chapter, Legend says that Donatella owe him and he plans on collecting his payment? What does that mean? What do Tellla owes him? Im still confused till now. Can you enlighten me? Thanks.

  • Anonymous
    July 3, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    A second book is coming out soon. I must say, though, I thoroughly and respectfully disagree with your opinion. I agree, I do love the plot and I understand as to how one may be confused with the magic, as I believe that the author does intend to confuse us. Caraval is a place where no one fully understands the truth while playing or watching.

    Julian calls Scarlett “Crimson” because he is kind of that character: playful and flirty… kind of like Gale from the Hunger Games calls Katniss “Catnip” because of a mistake he made years ago. However, you need to understand that authors do not choose the names of their characters based on what other authors do. Their writing style may have influenced them, but I don’t think that authors go on Wikipedias to find if that name is common, or has been used before or not.

    I am actually excited for the second book, and the possibility of a third one. I do not think that this book should be labeled as just ‘meh’. This book deserves so much more than a label. I stayed up until 4:30 in the morning reading this book. It took me so long because I read almost each and every part over because this author had me so captivated into Caraval, I wanted to understand the ending, even though I read that several times as well just for entertainment purposes.

    Thank you for not dropping a spoiler, I hate people that do that ha!

    Again, you are wondering what Tella owes Legend. That is always one way you can tell someone really, overall, enjoyed a book. This is where the second book picks up. There is not much released about it, it is, so far, untitled. Thank you for giving an honest opinion, though. I actually sincerely appreciate it. Again, I was never trying to be rude or judgmental.

    Happy reading,
    Mia

  • Anonymous
    August 28, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    Well I personally like the book and I think that your opinion (opinion because opinions are wrong) is irrelevant, dumb, uncalled for, stupid, rude, outrageous, and incredibly out of this world ridiculous.
    PS: Legend say she owns him because his “show” help them get out of her father’s hands.

  • Hello January! – Corrupt Pages
    January 1, 2018 at 6:01 pm

    […] Reviews: NPR / Kirkus Reviews / The Book Smugglers […]

  • Anonymous
    January 8, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    Yes, it did also remind me of Night Circus but fell short as it did not give the same magical feel as Night Circus.

  • Hello February! – Corrupt Pages
    February 1, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    […] Reviews: NPR / Kirkus Reviews / The Book Smugglers […]

  • Kira
    April 23, 2018 at 10:31 pm

    This book was amazing and I very much think you should all read it! It was fantastic and I loved it. It is now one of my favorite books.

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