Author: Stephanie Garber
Series: Caraval, #1
Page Count: 402
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Original Publication Date: 2017
Genre(s): Young adult, Fantasy
Each year, a mysterious game called Caraval appears in a new location. After writing to Caraval Master Legend for years, Scarlett and her sister Donatella and finally invited to this year’s game. Only this is the year Scarlett is to be married off to a stranger, courtesy of her abusive and powerful father. Though Scarlett wants to enjoy the magic of Caraval, she does not want to risk her future—that is, until her sister is kidnapped by Legend. It turns out, Tella is part of the game this year, and it’s up to Scarlett to find her before the end of the game. Only for Scarlett, it’s starting to not feel like a game anymore.
I’ve heard only good things about Caraval, supposedly the YA fantasy of 2017. I received my own copy in an OwlCrate, and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. But after reading and thoroughly enjoying The Night Circus this year, I made a promise to myself that I would finally pick up Caraval before the year’s end, as I felt they may be similar.
Told in third-person POV, we follow Scarlett as she desperately searches for her sister. Five clues, five nights, one prize: a wish granted by Legend himself. All Scarlett has to do is find her sister, hidden somewhere in Caraval. And she is not alone in her search—she is aided by Julian, a sailor and previous Caraval player. Together, they follow the clues and search for Tella, before it’s too late.
Unfortunately, Scarlett is as dull as a rock. She has little personality and is afraid of everything. She spends most of the book whining and acting like she’s not interested in Julian, who is gorgeous and endearing despite being kind of a jerk sometimes. I really wish I’d liked Scarlett more, her being the main character, but I didn’t. I couldn’t care less about her. Even her budding relationship with Julian didn’t carry the emotional weight I was looking for. I didn’t connect to the story emotionally at all. The writing was also less than fantastic. The world-building was slightly lacking, and the dialogue didn’t always sound realistic.
While these aspects lagged, the plot was interesting and fast-paced enough to save the story. Going into Caraval, I was expecting The Night Circus meets The Hunger Games—instead, I got more of an Alice in Wonderland vibe, which was a nice surprise. Though I was disappointed that the game of Caraval wasn’t exactly the main focus of the story (the other players were scarcely mentioned and had virtually no chance of winning the game), there was juuuuuust enough action, magic, and fun stuff to keep me reading.
Caraval did not meet my expectations. However, the premise and action hooked me, and though I won’t be buying the sequel, I am going to loan it from my library. I do want to see what happens next, and I hope Garber steps up her game. Caraval is an easy breezy YA novel that, if you don’t look too closely at it, can enjoy.