Caraval by Stephanie Garber

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Synopsis: 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.

This week I finished Caraval by Stephanie Garber and when I first set out to write my review I considered my feelings about Caraval to be pretty middle of the road. I knew I didn’t like a lot of the plot holes or relationships, but I also didn’t hate the journey getting to the end, if anything it was pretty entertaining. But sitting down to write this, I realized I actually disliked a lot more of this book than I initially thought.

From the start of the story we are unceremoniously slapped in the face with an entire world/setting that is never set up nor explained in any way shape or form throughout the entire book. At points, we get snippets that there are different islands, colonies, territories, etc., but other than that we are never let in on how this world actually works. I don’t know what this world actually looks like, and I have no idea about the cultural dynamic. I am making the assumption that the world building was meant for Caraval itself, rather than the surrounding world. Even when we finally get to Caraval I felt as if we didn’t get the full grasp of how the magical system work or how the game functions. Even if the game changes with each new Caraval, this does not negate the fact that we should have some explanation as to how the rules of the game work, besides “not everything is as it seems, it is only a game.” Right, IT IS A GAME, HOW DO I PLAY LEGEND, HOW?

Once in Caraval, which was supposedly like this magical carnival, I found myself picturing a renaissance fair where people exchange secrets for information, goods, and services.There is so little magic and performances that I began to forget this place was magical. I suppose what gave me the renaissance vibe were the details about the inn/tavern called La Serpiente and the extravagant architecture, vendors, and stores. Honestly, it would have been pretty cool if it were a renaissance fair.

I felt that most, if not all characters felt flat and their motivations throughout the story were just not enough for me to appreciate their actions and the outcomes. To a degree, I almost appreciated Donatella’s motivation more than Scarlett, but we were only filled in on Donatella’s plans much later in the story—not to mention we barely know Donatella as a character. Since many of these characters were flat, it made it hard to care about much of what happened to any of them or to care about their feelings.

What was especially bothersome was the fact that this book was all about the sisterly bond, yet the sisterly bond is not really a healthy bond. If I am being completely honest, it seemed as if they couldn’t care less about one another, yet I am supposed to believe they have a strong enough bond that Scarlett will definitely win this game to save her? Scarlett is extremely judgmental of Tella’s actions and spends far more time thinking about her sister’s wrong doings than saving her.

Sorry, it is not all praise for Caraval, but it is still worth the read if you are looking for something quick and, for the most part, fun. I may move on with the second book to see if my feelings change or stay the same, so I’ll keep you guys updated!

2.5/5 stars!

–Stephanie, Teen LTA

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