My rating in stars: 4 stars
My rating in words: Really liked it
What it’s about:
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.
My thoughts (Spoiler-free):
“Welcome, welcome to Caraval! The grandest show on land or by sea. Inside you’ll experience more wonders than most people see in a lifetime. You can sip magic from a cup and buy dreams in a bottle. But before you fully enter into our world, you must remember it’s all a game.”
Wow, so that was Caraval. This book has been so hyped for so long, that it almost feels as if I had been waiting for it for half my life. And though I must admit that I let the hype get to me and ended up just a bit disappointed with some things, I can’t deny that it is one of the most unique reading experiences I’ve ever had. And that’s why I definitely recommend everyone to read it, because this is one of those books that you just can’t NOT read. It’s a story you simply must experience for yourself.
What makes it so unique? Well, definitely the clever and magical combination of the plot and the setting. I mean, the blurb already promises something that’s more than just a game or competition, but something closer to magic. And it is. The minute the characters set foot on Caraval, they are lost in this magical, haunting, wonderful world. And so is the reader. Prepare to get completely absorbed in the game.
I’ve seen a lot of people compare this to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, but I must admit I haven’t read that yet (I know, I know, shame on me!) so I can’t give you my opinion on that comparison. What Caraval did remind me of was a weird little mix of the unexpected magic of Alice in Wonderland, with the atmosphere of Pirates of the Caribbean. Everything is painted to clearly, it’s like a gorgeous movie playing in your head. This setting is so completely unique and vivid and whimsical and it is definitely the star of the book.
But while the setting may steal the show, I also have to give major compliments to the plot, which is fast-paced and unpredictable as can be! Which of course only adds to the Caraval experience. The mystery of Caraval is complex and magical, and while you may think you have it all figured out, trust me when I say that you probably don’t. At least, I didn’t. Twists and turns and revelations follow eachother so rapidly, it’s hard to keep track of what’s real and what’s not.
Concerning the pacing, I must say that while the book is incredibly fast-paced and enticing and will likely make you want to rush through it to get answers, I think it’s better to take your time and read relatively slowly. I rushed through in my mad frenzy to figure it all out, but in doing so I fear I may have missed a lot. I’d suggest going slow and letting the magic really soak in for the optimal reading experience.
Another thing I really liked about this story was that the driving force behind it all was sisterly love. The story is really all about the love between Scarlett an her sister Tella, and everything they would do for eachother. And I personally loved how Scarlett never lost track of her one goal to find and save her sister. Amidst the craziness of Caraval, and her growing romantic feelings for Julian, she may get a little distracted sometimes, but still never loses sight of what matters most to her, which is getting her sister back.
So if it was that great, why was I disappointed? Well, maybe it was because, as I said, I rushed through the book too quickly and missed a lot. But I had a lot of problems really connecting to any of the characters. Other than her desire to save her sister, I didn’t find a lot interesting about our main character Scarlett. She felt quite flat and one-dimensional to me. Tella also never really became much more to me than the damsel in distress. And Julian definitely had his swoony moments, but I also never really connected to him, or the romance, which really bummed me out. The amount of feels I got were minimal and for me that was mainly because I was lost in the game and didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. Hence, I didn’t trust Julian at all and I didn’t feel a lot of chemistry between Scarlett and him. But, this was a personal experience for me, so it may be completely different to you!
Also, at the end I felt so completely whiplashed from all the sudden twists and turns that I… I felt completely disoriented. I’m counting this as both a good and a bad thing. Good because I love when books keep you guessing all the time and even keep you thinking long after you turned the final page. And bad, because I didn’t get it and I just want a little more clarity! I also wanted more from Legend, the mastermind behind Caraval. At the end of the book, I feel like I still didn’t understand him or his motives. But like I said, maybe I should have just read the book at a much slower pace and that might have solved a lot of my little issues.
Overall, though I had a few reservations and was a bit disappointed, I still couldn’t bring myself to rate Caraval any lower than 4 stars. Because it really is such a unique must-read. It’s fun and fast, magical and mysterious, vivid and whimsical and just absolutely gorgeous. I’ll definitely be waiting for the sequel, which I’ll dive into after a (slower) re-read of this book.
“She imagined loving him would feel like falling in love with darkness, frightening and consuming yet utterly beautiful when the stars came out.”
“She remembered thinking falling for him would be like falling in love with darkness, but now she imagined he was more like a starry night: the constellations were always there, constant, magnificent guides against the ever-present black.”
“No one is truly honest. Even if we don’t lie to others, we often lie to ourselves. And the word good means different things to different people.”
“Hope is a powerful thing. Some say it’s a different breed of magic altogether. Elusive, difficult to hold on to. But not much is needed.”
“It is not fate, it is simply the future observing that which we crave most. Every person has the power to change their fate if they are brave enough to fight for what they desire more than anything”