[Caraval] Stephanie Garber

Once people leave this isle, the things they’ve done here don’t just unhappen, no matter how much they wish them undone.

Well, I’m glad that I didn’t pursue the idea of buying a UK edition. While Caraval did suffer from the fact that I went through a major reading slump while reading it, it wasn’t just that. I feel like Caraval was far too long for a story where very few things happened.  We were promised a carnival-esque setting, but I feel like I didn’t see much of it. The story primarily focused on Scarlett and Julian instead of the scavenger hunt / performance of Caraval.

Anytime I heard anything about Caraval, I heard about carnivals and circuses.  The people who participate in Caraval are supposed to solve a mystery–the disappearance of Scarlett’s sister–by following a set of clues like a scavenger hunt. It was something that sounded so interesting–a carnival steeped in a fantasy world. At the beginning of the novel, we’re introduced to several characters who are participating in this scavenger hunt, so it seems like Scarlett will have to compete against people who only want the prize, where she has a lot more at stake because it’s her sister. However, as the novel progresses, the only characters we consistently spend time with are Scarlett and Julian. The other characters are somewhere else, only showing up when they need to give hints to Scarlett or reveal that another character is villainous. There’s been other novels where I’ve complained about this before, but Caraval was the absolute worst that I’ve read to date. It basically was Scarlett and Julian wandering around Caraval and happening upon clues. I was really disappointed that the novel ended up focusing on the romance (instant-love, by the way, no matter how much Scarlett feels it’s meant to be and complains about her sister doing the same thing).

I wanted to know more about the tattooed young man and the woman who records all of Caraval–both past and present–in her book. There were shops where you answered truthfully or lost a day of your life–in the sense that you literally die for a day and then wake up the next. Those little bits of fantasy elements that were thrown in were so fascinating that had they been focused on and expanded, I think I would have liked Caraval more than I did. Despite it being about a performance, we didn’t see much of any performance. It had so much potential that wasn’t met, despite the fact that it was heavily marketed as a fantasy-circus novel. I think that Caraval is a prime example of book marketing done right–in the sense that many readers, myself included, were eagerly looking forward to getting our hands on this book. I feel so disappointed that it disappointed me.

I also don’t really see the love that Scarlett supposedly had for her sister. At the beginning, it’s there. But as the book progresses, I feel like her concern for her sisters only shows up in short bursts of “Oh, my sister is missing! Help me!” only to fall away when Julian looks at her with midnight eyes or something. To me, if you’re as concerned as Scarlett says she is, you’d be entirely focused on finding your sister. You wouldn’t be cozying up to the cute guy, who by the way, is perfect. I honestly didn’t feel anything for any of the characters. They didn’t really stand out as anything to remember in my opinion.

The setting is pretty much nonexistent. I know very little about the world, despite mentions of conquered islands and continents. I would have liked to see that element come into play when tensions over a game are already high.

I did end up reading the whole novel because I did enjoy the writing. I felt that the style fit the story. It was descriptive, slightly flowery, and some things didn’t really make sense, but I do feel like it gave an extra element of magic to a story that desperately needed more magic. The premise of Caraval is sort of like a traveling circus–here one night and gone the next–but it takes it to another level: Caraval is a performance where the audience participates, some more actively than others. It’s said that anything can happen during Caraval with no consequences, so people tend to act in ways they normally wouldn’t. It means that no matter who you are, during Caraval you’re often not yourself. I like that the writing reflected that–a reader can’t always trust the characters or the setting because some of it may not be real.

One of the things I did enjoy about Caraval was the idea of the past affecting the present.  The only problem I have is that Garber took a long time to reveal this. It fits in with the story, but I wish that more of it had been revealed or hinted at earlier on. Although some of my problems with Caraval stem from the fact that I was in a reading slump, part of it was also because I struggled with the overall story. There’s the general storyline of Caraval and Tella’s kidnapping, but there’s also this storyline that comes in later. I wish that the secondary storyline had been threaded throughout the novel because I think it would have made me more interested in the first. This book is one of those really popular ones, but I couldn’t completely find why it was popular in my own reading of it.

I think that most of the action happens in the last third or so of the book, which could be why it’s so popular–I think people would tend to remember the end rather than the middle bits, especially when the middle is kind of slow and little happens. But for me, I like when my interest is captured throughout the whole book, not just at the end.  Another issue I had was that a lot of the things that happened in the novel were twisted at the end into something else. It’s really frustrating as a reader when things that you think are true are changed just at the end because the author doesn’t have the confidence to go through with what they initially started with. I’ve seen a lot of reviewers throw the word lies around and I have to agree with that. I feel like I spent 300 something pages being told something and then having the rug pulled out from me for the other 100 or so in order for book two to be set up.

Even though Caraval deals with illusion it becomes more about disillusionment at the end. If everything you see during Caraval is a lie, how do you know what is the truth? As a reader and reviewer, I feel that way about Caraval the book.

2 stars.

 

 

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