Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

I received this book for free from ALA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Caraval by Stephanie GarberCaraval by Stephanie Garber
Series: Caraval #1
Published by Flatiron Books on January 31, 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 407
Format: ARC
Source: ALA
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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.

Apparently the time has come for me to be a black sheep again. Caraval has been massively hyped for months now, and a sea of high ratings has been coming in. This is one of those times where I end up feeling as if maybe I’ve read a different book than everyone else.

There were a few things I did like about Caraval. The setting’s cool, once Scarlett gets to Wonderland Caraval. The book shines most in the descriptions of the lurid, magical game/town/whatever Caraval actually is. I also enjoyed the system of payment, in secrets and lies and fears. That part was cool, and some of those elements were done in a really fantastic, creative way.

Otherwise, though, very little impressed me about Caraval. What’s the point of a magical setting if the heroine’s going to be the biggest drip, stick in the mud, who needs people to push her in the right direction throughout the entire game. Time after time, Scarlett forgets things she’s just been told, so she repeats them over and over, feeling clever for actually remembering, even though she literally just learned it. Several times someone told Scarlet something, and in the next paragraph she’d be like “Aha! I have figured it out!” because she has finally processed the thing someone straight out told her. Scarlett’s a shocking level of stupid. The only redeeming element is that literally everyone makes fun of her in the course of the novel.

Scarlett as a heroine is frustrating, because with a more dynamic character at the fore, like her sister Donatella, this book could have been so much better. I’ll never understand why so many books choose to focus on the boring character rather than the fascinating best friend or sibling. Side note: THESE NAMES. The one attempt to really make Scarlett interesting is her synesthesia thing, where she sees her emotions as colors, but it’s so poorly done. In some scenes she notes her colorful emotions, but then she’ll go around feeling a lot of things and not experiencing that. This seems to come and go.

Then again, Julian was my favorite character in the whole thing, able to actually make funny jokes and flirt and not be one characteristic. I actually shipped the ship at the start. But then Scarlett and Julian are so serious and dramasaurus and they have known each other for like five fucking days but it’s true love blah blah blah kill me.

Almost every element of the plot I saw coming from a million miles away. Twists are telegraphed. Even when they’re not, you figure them out way before Scarlett does because she’s not bright. Scarlett has to be told what to do at every single point because she can’t figure things out on her own. It’s funny when she tries, because she’s usually wrong. Sometimes, though, she spontaneously figures something out or recalls something, and it feels like such bullshit OOC cheating.

And, much as I like the setting, I know absolutely nothing about the actual world this book takes place in. Scarlett’s constantly pearl clutching and worrying about her reputation, and she wears a corset, so it’s vaguely historical, I guess. But her sister doesn’t worry about that shit really, and I know basically nothing else about this world so Scarlett just feels like a stick in the mud grandma. And for all that Scarlett was supposedly obsessed with Caraval, she knew absolutely nothing about it.

The writing varies. Some parts work well, like the descriptions of the setting. Julian’s banter is good, though he’s really the only character in the book that can do that, and even he doesn’t always. For the most part, the writing tends to be too simplistic for me, and then would veer into ridiculous purple prose, which is only my thing in the right context, and this was not it.

For all that, I basically could not put this book down, because it’s most definitely crack fantasy. It’s not very good fantasy however. But hey, loads of people strongly disagree with me on that, and maybe you’ll be one of them. I might read the second one to be honest, because this was super readable, but I might not because I do not give a shit about these characters.

Favorite Quote:

“Oh, poor you. Here you are on a magical isle and all you can think of is what you don’t have.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

4 responses to “Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber”

  1. Gillian says:

    “The only redeeming element is that literally everyone makes fun of her in the course of the novel.”


    “And for all that Scarlett was supposedly obsessed with Caraval, she knew absolutely nothing about it.”

    Right??? Why even have her dream about it for so long?? it showed in absolutely no way other than those letters at the start.
    Gillian recently posted…In Which I Apologize to the Goodreads Challenge and Acknowledge I Have Been a NincompoopMy Profile

  2. Leah says:

    I felt the same way! All of these wonderful, magical things were going on and Scarlett was not part of it. Huge disappointment in my opinion.

  3. Dramasaurus hahah. That’s great. I’ve been really hesitant to pick up Caraval despite the good reviews. I don’t like carnivals or whatever the game sounded like and gosh the heroine sounds so irritating. We’ll see if I get to it or not, maybe I’ll give it a try.

  4. The hype for this really has been massive. The vast majority of these overhyped books never seem to work for me so I intended on staying away… I had no idea it was Alice in Wonderland-ish but that doesn’t much change my mind. haha
    Bonnie @ For the Love of Words recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday – Steamy GoodnessMy Profile

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