Title: Caraval (Caraval #1)
Publication Date: January 31, 2017
Genre: YA Fantasy
REMEMBER, IT’S ONLY A GAME…
Back in 2016, I got to read the first five chapters of this book through Net Galley. I started hearing a lot about it from Booktubers that were getting ARC’s. At the same I read those chapters, I was blown away by enchanted and swept away I was in the story. After reading them, I actually pre-ordered the book and waited (impatiently) until the release date. Once it was on my doorstep, I took in and pretty quickly in the beginning of February. What did I ultimately think?
World Building: I know some people have complained that the world building is very lacking int this novel. I disagree that since it’s a very contained story and doesn’t travel beyond the two main places, background world building. You get pieces of what the outside world is like, with mentions of monarchies, laws and faraway names. The Isle of Trisda itself felt like an island similar to the Caribbean, with the large plantation, abundance of rum and smuggling black market items. The island feels dreary and lurking with danger due to their abusive father. The basic building you get of this island gives you enough for when you get to Caraval.
Now, Caraval is NOT a magical circus. I need to clarify this. I don’t know if people were hearing wrong, or the publisher was incorrectly marketing this book, but Caraval is a game. The island is a place, where during Caraval, people go there to escape their normal lives, watch the game and not really care what’s real or not. That’s the point. You pay for things on the island with secrets, pricks of blood, etc. You do get some great descriptions of the buildings, clothing, food and many other things on this island. The island feels alive and the world building you get is satisfying. It’s not Brandon Sanderson world building, but you don’t need top notch, deeply detailed world building for this book to be great.
Characters: For me, I think the characters served their purpose in this book. Scarlett and Tella are sisters who lost their mother, and had stories of Caraval told to them by their grandmother. They fight and even throw each other under the bus in front of their father, but still love each other. Scarlett does the best she can to find her sister after she goes missing for Caraval. Scarlett is a person who feels that being safe in life is better than living it. That belief is challenged both by Julian, who helps them escape to Caraval and the events during the game. She may be naive, but by the end, I think she was stronger in thinking for herself and not getting distracted by the events around her.
Julian was actually a great male character. He had a devilish charm from the beginning. He appears to be a scummy type person, but during the game, that layer is taken away. His intentions aren’t what I expected and I’m glad that I didn’t predict his true motives. He genuinely wanted to help Scarlett find her sister.
But that’s where the positive train stops for the characters. I agree with people that Legend was not fleshed out at all. His intentions were childish and didn’t match how sinister the game really is and I felt disappointed by the truth behind him. Also, Tella is absent for 90% percent of the book, and while the author has a reason for that, she still get minimal development as a person. Some flashbacks from Scarlett’s point of view of them being sisters and their experiences would’ve helped show us who Tella is instead giving a long explanation at the end. Her small part was decent, but ultimately disappointing.
Also, the other participants in the game were nonexistent. That’s another valid complaint. You see maybe three people on occasion while the game is happening, but there’s lost potential in creating more characters to be attached to instead of just Julian and Scarlet.
Plot: The story nicely draws you in for the first six chapters of the book, giving you a taste of what’s to come. Many sections of the very twisty plot were good and helped me keep reading. I was the halfway point and started feeling discouraged if I wanted to continue. But a couple things happened in the last half that were at first surprising and made me keep turning the pages. Garber does give a twisty plot and doesn’t give you much time to think things through until the last chapter. I commend her for giving a decent second half and that there will be a companion novel in 2018.
The romance also was pretty good for me. Many romances in YA don’t work for me, due to ridiculous miscommunication, not being logical or making it way too fantastical. The romance won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s a positive relationship that feels like it came from a Disney movie. It’s simple, not overpowering and simply fun.
Finally, the ending wrapped up way too nicely. I’m a person where you have high stakes in a story, but with everyone being okay doesn’t work at all. It doesn’t feel authentic or that there was a ton of effort from the author. The ending made me feel a bit cheated. A couple minor, but shocking things happened that would’ve added a harder punch to the plot if they stayed the way they were.
Writing: I wasn’t a fan of the “purple” prose at all. I thought how Scarlett could see colors and deduce a lot of things, facial expressions and other things from those colors felt like a too “special snowflake” ability and seemed to make things too easy. If you like that kind of style, it’s fine. I enjoy lovely descriptions of nature, clothing, food, etc. But when you’re using phrases like: “He tasted like midnight and wind” or “Something acidic and moldy and burnt bubbled up through Scarlett’s throat – the taste of death.” Those do not make sense and makes it feel like the author is trying too hard to imitate masters of this writing style like Laini Taylor or Erin Morgenstern. It didn’t grate on my nerves like when I read The Star Touched Queen for the first time, but those sentences definitely needed to be cut.
Overall: I did enjoy this book. I originally gave it 4 stars. But after time has passed and thinking about it, a 3 is a much better rating. Some of the hype was really overdone before the book came out, but it didn’t kill it completely for me like it has for other books. The concept is fun and is an entertaining read at best. Just go into this book knowing that it’s NOT a circus and you’ll probably have a better experience. It’s groundbreaking and has some moments of stalling and convenience, but younger girls would love this book if they need something new to read. If you’re unsure of the hype, borrow it from your library and decide if you love the magical game.