Welcome, welcome to Caraval… beware of getting swept too far away.
— Caraval, Stephanie Garber
This book was a wild ride. The last 50 pages or so gave me moderate whiplash.
That being said, it was a pretty standard young-adult fantasy novel. I went into it expecting to be blown away because I had seen a lot of hype surrounding it. I was not blown away, but I did have fun.
Caraval by Stephanie Garber had a really interesting premise. From a young age, Scarlett, the main character, and Tella, her younger sister, are desperate to escape their father and explore the world of Caraval. Caraval was created by a legendary magician, appropriately called Legend. Shortly before her arranged marriage, Scarlett receives an invitation to Caraval from Legend himself. Scarlett is hesitant, but is “convinced” by Tella to go. By convinced I mean kidnapped and taken against her will by Tella and a sailor named Julian. Upon arriving at Legend’s private island, Scarlett and Julian realize something is wrong and Tella is missing. It is revealed through riddles that Tella is the puzzle and has been taken captive by Legend. Scarlett only has five days to solve riddles and explore Caraval to find her sister. She enlists the help of Julian to guide her through Caraval and help her save Tella.
The world of Caraval is magically written and Garber creates place that I really wanted to visit. Garber did a fantastic job with her imagery and the infusion of magic in the world; however, it has a huge downside.
The riddles and puzzles to solve are painfully obvious to everyone except Scarlett. She has so many people around her giving her hints to the clues and game, but she barely listens to them. Scarlett, in fact, only relies on her feelings. She barely listens to the facts that are laid out in front of her and goes exploring things based on a sense she had.
I also found Scarlett very hard to keep up with at times. She was kind of like the character in a horror movie who is going to check out the weird noise in the basement even though you know there’s a monster down there. All you want to do is yell at them and tell them not to be so dense!
Julian is another one of those hard to keep up with characters. Julian is Scarlett’s mysterious companion who she falls in love with almost instantly. You think he’s a sailor, but he might not be a sailor and, wow, why does he know so much about Caraval? In addition, I love a good love story. Even instant love stories don’t bother me, but this just didn’t do it for me. However, I can see why Julian would appeal to a younger audience though. He’s brooding, handsome, and would do anything to save Scarlett. He’s definitely way too perfect and easy to have a crush on, but he’s not my kind of guy.
I really, truly loved the world creation in this book. I wanted to place myself in Caraval and watch the game be played out, but I didn’t want to watch the characters we were given. Scarlett was wishy-washy. Julian was too brooding. Tella was way too selfish. There wasn’t really any point to Scarlett’s fiance, except to give her an internal conflict about falling in love with Julian…
And yet, as I say all of these things, I find myself really wanting to read the sequel. This book was ridiculous, but fun and entertaining. Garber described things well (except the whole feelings as colors and tastes thing… that was a little strange) and created an interesting story. My hope for the sequel is that Garber sharpens her characters and makes them stronger. I think with that, the series could be something really special. I am looking forward to the sequel because I do enjoy light and quick reads very much and Caraval was exactly that.