Updated: Jan 19
Caraval by Stephanie Garber is another YA fantasy book that I’ve seen a lot of people talking about. I had gone into the library to pick up one book that I had requested, and left with 8 books. This is the struggle of being a bookworm. Honestly though, this isn’t the worst problem to face.
TRIGGER WARNING: Parental abuse, parental abandonment
Scarlett Dragna and her sister, Tella, live on the tiny island of Trisda, where their father is the governor. He’s powerful and cruel, and has never let the girls off the island. The girls have dreamed of seeing Caraval for years - it’s a faraway performance that happens only once a year, where the audience participates in the show, and the event is invite only. Now that their father has arranged a marriage for Scarlett, the girls think their chance to see Caraval has passed.
But this year, Scarlett and her sister finally receive their invitations. With assistance from a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett to the island where Caraval is held. Just as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by the mastermind organizer of Caraval, Legend. This year’s performance of Caraval revolves around Tella, and the winner is determined by who is able to find Tella first.
Although Scarlett is told that the events occurring during Caraval are all part of an elaborate performance, she becomes wrapped up in a complex game of love, heartbreak, and magic. Regardless of whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find her sister before the end of the game on the fifth night, or a dangerous set of consequences will occur, and she will lose her sister forever.
I loved the world of Caraval. While Trisda seems to be an awfully bleak setting, the location where Caraval is held is a lush, fantastic island. Stephanie Garber’s descriptions are absolutely gorgeous. Her way of describing characters, their style of dress, and the locations are incredible. While the time period isn’t specifically named, I’m led to believe that this isn’t anywhere close to present day; the characters use ships as a means of travel, letters seem to be the only means of long-distance communication, the men wear top hats and bowlers, and the women wear corsets and dresses with bustles.
This is where my biggest issue with the book came into play. Tella is definitely the sister I feel is the interesting one. She has character traits of a youngest child (like myself), where she isn’t as responsible, and likes to have fun without worrying about the consequences until it’s too late. She’s clearly the troublemaker in the family. Since Tella is kidnapped fairly early in the story, we don’t really hear too much from her.
The book is narrated from Scarlett’s point of view, and she’s the typical oldest child. She’s protective of her little sister, focused on following the rules, extremely prim and proper, and is such a square. While she’s worried about finding Tella, she’s also concerned about getting back to Trisda to avoid the wrath of her father and arriving in time for her wedding to the unknown suitor. I did like how Scarlett views emotions as being colors, since it was something that made her distinctive. Along the way, Scarlett keeps getting distracted, and I didn’t like that she played the damsel in distress frequently. Whenever she got confused or found herself in a situation that she didn’t like (which was often), she turned to a man to rescue her. Rather than relying on her brains since she’s a smart girl, she made decisions impulsively and based on her emotions, and made poor choices.
I kept hoping that Scarlett’s character would loosen up and start acting like the strong, smart woman she could be, rather than the stereotypical woman waiting for a man to save her. I found it so frustrating that she expected men who were competing for a prize to drop everything and help her find her sister. While the stakes were infinitely higher for Scarlett, to everyone else, it was a game. At times, I wanted to reach into the book and grab her shoulders and shake her. There were plenty of plot twists that I didn’t see coming, and it was a well-crafted story. There are two books left in the series, and I’m on the fence about wanting to read further into it. I think the next book in the series is told from Tella’s point of view, which could sway me towards wanting to read it. I’d have to think about it. I’ve waited over a week to write this review, hoping that I’d be able to form a stronger opinion one way or another, but I’m still left feeling … blah about this book.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn't an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 20
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars