Review Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Synopsis: 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.

Rating: 3/5

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
My thoughts:

I had really high hopes for Caraval. The blurb, the cover, and the excellent reviews promised a magical whirlwind of a story. And this novel delivered that, but its relatively achieved grandeur was overshadowed bit by bit till the end. The last 50 pages or so of the book took its soul out, leaving me with a bittersweet aftertaste, a headache and lots of confusion. 

Since I cannot even reflect upon the messy thoughts inside my brain, I'll analyze punctually. 

1. The world-building. Sadly, in its true meaning and ramifications, we have no such thing as world-building. I do not even know how to categorize this novel. High-fantasy? Just fantasy? Regardless, in the beginning we had mentions of empires and conquered isles which had me utterly excited, but they were left to rot in the backseat so that the world of Caraval could unravel. Moving to this microcosm, it was indeed complex and fascinating. However, only through its captivating appearance and bold imagery and creative ideas. If you dive deeper, into the background, mechanisms and history, you come up empty. It's all really a facade. 

2. The plot. God, the lies. There were so many lies and so many secrets and so many games and manipulation that it honestly ended up being exhausting. Revelations upon revelations, ones that often contradict each other, keep you guessing from start to finish, but after a while this initially mesmerizing stance metamorphoses into the feel of being tricked. Personally, that's how I felt. Deceived. After all the puzzle pieces finally straightforwardly fell into place (some that I've anticipated, some that I did not) you are offered an explanation. And like all good magic tricks, this kills the spirit -- and, implicitly, the so called "plot" -- of Caraval. Gone is the magic and wonder; instead, the triviality and over-the-top drama take residence. It's a scam. A ploy. And, much like Scarlett felt in last key-scenes, I also felt I haven't really made progress in the story. 

3. The characters. We have Scarlett, our heroine; Julian, the love-interest; Donatella, the sister. Governor Dragna, the father and also the villain. Legend, the pseudo villain and the mastermind behind Caraval. Plus a few secondary, yet admirable characters (them I liked in their entirety). Scarlett could have been awesome, I'm telling you, if it weren't for her constant fretting and worrying and flowery thinking. Her personality was nuanced only in the kind, moral and brave spectrum, but at least a fraction of character development existed. Julian is a completely other story. The hottie and protective type, he was so intricately woven into the scam I've mentioned that he missed becoming a swoony book boyfriend. Tella was, on the other hand, funky and with a mind of her own, but her supposed cleverness the author tries to sell us falls flat. Despite their flaws, the sisters had a nice relationship. Their father represents a villain-wannabe that should only be called as he truly is -- an abuser, a bully. Legend... now Legend was a mystery and I'd love to find out more. The epilogue seems to hint we'll see him again in a sharper focus. 

4. The romance. A bit too syrupy and insta-love reminiscing. I realize now it's the same feeling I've had when reading Falling Kingdoms: it's too much, too early in too little pages. About a quarter into the book, the feelings developed by Scarlett for Julian were already getting in the way of the plot. And I am quite the romantic fan girl, so when I'm saying something felt off, I'm not doing it lightly. Taking into account the amount of untruths that they based their relationship on, it's yet again a case of a shaky foundation to a central aspect of the book. 

5. The writing style. Expect prose the likes of Laini Taylor. It sounds beautiful and I'll admit I get swept away pretty easily with this type of writing. It felt like the story flowed, despite its numerous hiccups. The third-person narrative also helped induce a darker atmosphere to keep us on the edge. On a structural level, there was redundancy, but I managed to overlook it gradually. Overall, I'll keep an eye out for Stephanie Garber, because this debut certifies she has storytelling skills. 

Even though Caraval has been pitched as The Night Circus in different and refreshing clothing, it is far from the lovely and slow-burning tale of Celia and Marco. Nonetheless, I wholeheartedly believe it deserves at least a skimming. It's an enigmatic story from start to finish and the epilogue assured I'll read the sequel. Color me intrigued. 


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