Caraval- Book Review
Author: Stephanie Garber
This was one of the most anticipated books of 2017. And I hated it.
Okay, so I wanted to like it. I really did. The concept? I love. An Island where there is a mysterious Caraval, run by a ‘Legend’ so to speak, full of mystery, secrets, and intrigue? Right up my alley.
But this book failed in so many ways, it was just frustrating to read.
This book was about Scarlett, our main character, traveling to the island of Caraval (I think the Caraval was a whole island, at least). I can’t talk too much about the plot, because every chapter had a plot twist, which wasn’t the least bit confusing or excessive.
My first problem with this book wasn’t even the plot (or lack thereof), though- it was the ‘pretty’ writing. You know what I mean- so full of adjectives, ornate details, and strange descriptions? In some books it works. The Night Circus, for example, has both pretty writing and it is well written. This book, however, fell flat. The prose did not make up for the fact that it lacked a coherent setting. There was absolutely no world building done. The author seemed so focused on the writing style, that the actual story got lost somewhere along the lines.
The lack of setting also drove me crazy. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it, couldn’t figure out the layout of the Caraval, which is where most of our story took place. There was definitely water inside (I think), it was cold but not actually cold, and they could only play the game at night. That’s about all of the information we receive about the Caraval. There was also quite a bit of action, but it all only took 5 nights. All of the settings inside the Caraval are mentioned maybe once or twice, except for the tunnels and the place that they sleep. There was just vague (albeit pretty) descriptions, but lacked coherent details. None of it felt real, or even comprehensible.
I just wish the author had dedicated one or two chapters to describing the world that this all took place in- it sounded so interesting, and could have been done so much better.
I really hated the main character, Scarlett. At one point, her sister called her brave, but that did not come across throughout the book. Look. She and her sister were abused by their father, which would mess them up. But the way that the author dealt with that trauma didn’t resonate, because the author basically didn’t deal with it. It was just a plot device that was forgotten after Tella (Scarlett’s sister) disappeared. Okay, years of trauma gone in an instant. Sure.
Also the fact that Scarlett could ‘see emotions as colors’ was never really explained. Did she just have a form of synesthesia? Or was it part of the magic of this world? This world has magic, as evidenced by the Caraval, but it seems as though only the Caraval has magic. Except Scarlett’s Grandmother, who could make stories come to life? None of the rules of magic of this world were explained. Does that make Scarlett magic, or is it just a normal part of their world?
Tella also irked me as a character. She was barely in the book, but when she was, she seemed naïve and selfish.
We find out that this whole thing was orchestrated by her, and really? She made her sister go through this ordeal so she could trick her father into thinking she was dead? And this was the best way to fake her own death? Because her father would ‘chase her to the ends of the earth’? Even though their father knows that Scarlett is still alive and that’s not an issue? I’m so confused, honestly.
Julien was a fine character, although cliché. He was kind of bland, the usual love interest in any YA book ever. The whole ‘I love you bt I have to pretend to hate you because reasons, and be a jerk so you hate me but I just can’t stay away is so overused in YA that I don’t even want to touch it. He was nothing special. I thought for a second he might be Legend, but then Scarlett thought that so I knew he wasn’t, because Scarlett was basically useless.
I probably should mention the Count and the father. The Count was so pointless and unnecessary. There was literally no reason for him to be there. He added nothing. The Father wasn’t really a character either- just a faceless bully who abused his children relentlessly without rhyme or reason. Maybe he is a sociopath, but I like my villains with dimension and motivation, thank you.
Now the deaths. They were so pointless, because they were only used for the shock factor. Everyone who died in the game didn’t actually die. So what was the point? None, really. If the author just kept one person dead, maybe I could have gotten behind it. I want characters to die! Not to be cold hearted, but it raises the stakes in the books- any of the characters I like could die, and that makes me more invested in the story. Having all the deaths not be real? That just seems pointless.
This whole book fell short. It felt like it was trying to be the Night Circus, but couldn’t get past the title page.
My main problem with this book is that it has so much potential. It could have been great, if the author had focused on the plot, and world building, instead of the prose and creative metaphors. The concept behind the book was so interesting, and it was so frustrating to read because it just couldn’t get there. I wanted it to work so badly, but every chapter I was just more and more disappointed.
I (tragically) will probably read the sequel, out of hope that the author (as most do) has improved by the second book. It is her debut novel, and once again, the potential is there.
If you want to read a book that is the equivalent of banging your head against a wall for fun, then this is the book for you.