Remember, it’s only a game…
Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her 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 faraway, 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. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.
Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.
Description taken from Goodreads.
I think Caraval is a much-needed reminder to all of us in the book blogosphere and the greater reader world that sometimes, the hype is not real. In retrospect, I probably should’ve checked the reviews on this one from blogger friends I know and love before getting excited about it, but it seemed like everyone was so ecstatic about it. Not so, if you haven’t read the book yet but are thinking about it. (Don’t do it. Even The Crown’s Game has Caraval beat here)
I’m not nearly as angry about this book as some people are, so I’ll let them do the rage reviewing–Emma has a pretty great and very valid one here–and keep this relatively short.
Caraval started out promising. The right character elements seemed to be there from the get-go. There was the sisterly bond between Scarlett and Tella, the mysterious and charming sailor Julian, and the arranged marriage to the count. Not terribly original, but I enjoyed the nuances to the relationships and the twists to the tropes.
Scarlett and Tella’s bond meant that they made hard choices for each other.
The mysterious sailor Julian, despite seeming like all charm and no brain, was willing to risk taking the sisters away from the island in order to save them from their abusive father.
Scarlett loved her sister, wanted to escape, and had enough of an open mind that she was willing to go into a seemingly promising arranged marriage. This was the one that surprised me and reassured my hopes for the book. It’s an idea that we see so rarely (and by rarely, I mean never) in YA. It’s written into the YA Heroine Handbook to always reject an arranged marriage, no matter how important it is, how happy the marriage could be, or how few other options there are. But Scarlett defied that idea, and I appreciated her logic and focus in handling reality.
The irony is unreal.
The warning sign that things weren’t going to go my way was Scarlett’s logic and focus. Even when Caraval was upon Julian and Scarlett, she refused to give up on her sister. If it had been toned down, I would’ve liked her resolve, but it turned into TellaTellaTellaTellaTella 24/7 even as the world becomes life or death around her. And the only thing that stops it? Her thought process turning into JulianJulianJulianJulianJulian.
That was when everything started falling apart. I would liken it to seeing through Caraval, but there wasn’t much of Caraval to see through. Too much of it was muddy, ill-defined, unoriginal, or just plain weird. I stopped trying to keep track of all the things that were going on about halfway through the story because I couldn’t take all the characters and all the drama and all the contrived world-building. Maybe I would’ve liked it more if so much wasn’t going on? And the main plot + ending made sense? Then again, the main characters mostly left me scratching my head as well, just carbon copies of characters from other stories. Scarlett’s a special snowflake who’s completely oblivious, and Julian’s “twist” was obvious as soon as they entered Caraval.
The one good thing that came out of this was that I was reminded of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, which has had its legitimate claim to its hype many times over. As for this one, I would definitely pass. 1.5 stars.