Caraval by Stephanie Garber (proof) - 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. From Goodreads.
When I first heard of Caraval by Stephanie Garber, it didn't immediately appeal to me. I think it was something to do with the game no matter how magical it might be, I guess I was just a little disbelieving that it would be all that interesting. But when it started cropping up in my social media, with so many people raving about it, I thought I would give it a go. But I ended up finishing this book feeling like I missed something that everyone else got, because there was very little about this book that I enjoyed.
Caraval is a game, a game of magic and mystery. There's a problem that must be solved, and you have five days to find and work out all the clues to win the game and get the prize. Scarlett has wanted to experience Caraval ever since she can remember, and has written to Master Legend, the game master, each year for seven years, to ask him to bring the game to her Isle, Trisda, to no avail. This year, though, she send a final letter, informing Legend that's there's no point of him coming to Trisda, because she will be getting married and will be unable to attend anyway. And at last, she receives a reply; an invitation to Caraval with three tickets, for her, her sister, Tella, and her fiancé. There's no way Scarlett can go as she would miss her wedding, and her wedding is the only chance she and her sister have of escaping their cruel and abusive - and, really, down right monstrous - father. But Tella dreams not only of freedom, but of adventure, and arranges with a sailor, Julian, to kidnap Scarlett, and take them to the game, giving him the third ticket. What Tella doesn't realise is that this year, the game is personal. Legend kidnaps Tella on arrival. The aim of the game? Find Tella, and then you'll find Legend, who will grant you a wish. Scarlett doesn't care about the game or the wish, just about finding Tella and making sure she's ok. With the help of Julian, she agrees to play the game in order to save her sister. But there's more to the game than meets the eye; Legend constantly plays tricks with his players, and not everything is as it seems. Will Scarlett manage to work out Legend's twisted game and find her sister before the game is over?
It does sound exciting and mysterious, but to be perfectly honest with you, the first two thirds of the book were excruciating. Yes, there's the mystery, and there's magic, but the clues, finding them, and working them out? There was nothing exciting about that at all. The main reason I kept reading? Julian. He was the only character in this whole book sparked any interest in me. He himself is a mystery, and he has his own secrets. Sometimes he acts like he doesn't care about Scarlett or helping her find Tella, just that he's out for himself, completely selfish, only wanting to win the game, and at others, there seems to be more to him, like he does care, and there's something he's hiding with this confident arrogance. But there were parts of the book where he disappeared for ages, and I was stuck with Scarlett, who I was never able to warm to.
She took absolutely forever to make a decision. Paragraphs and paragraphs of her over thinking every little thing before deciding one way or another. She was distrustful and questioned absolutely everything, and to a certain extent that's understandable - her sister has been kidnapped, and this game is confusing, and you can never be certain of anything - but she would take so long to come to a decision and finally act. It took me a really long time to read this book, seven days, because I was just not invested in this story or in Scarlett, and I didn't care enough to pick it back up all that often. Besides Julian, I kept reading because I felt like I'd got this far, I wanted to know how it was going to end, what the big mystery was, and discover if it was all worth it.
Getting to that final third, it looked like it might be! Everything stepped up; the pacing, the level of danger, the excitement. Scarlett was getting close to the end, she could practically touch it, but always just a little out of reach. There were twists and turns that I wasn't expecting at all, the stakes were raised, and things just really started to get interesting! Things even start to get emotional! Throughout the book Scarlett is reminded that not everything is as it seems, and she shouldn't trust what she thinks she believes. All the while, even when things get exciting, you're never really sure what's true and what's not. Some things are so extraordinary, it almost has this dream-like quality. And how can you figure things out when you don't know what to think or what to believe? It was exciting! But then we get the big reveal... and it was such a let down. Because as Scarlett and the reader has been told throughout the whole game, nothing is as it seems. I just thought, "Really?! After all that, that's what was going on the whole time?! Are you serious?!" Not only was it a let down, it was also unbelievable - not in the sense that it was unrealistic, but in that angry sense when you've discovered what someone has done, and you just can't believe that this person would do that. Because not only is it disappointing, it's also really not ok.
And Scarlett's reaction to it all? After all she's been through and experienced? Oh my god, I disliked her even more. I can't really explain why I have issues with her reaction without spoiling the big reveal, but... I was mad, and I didn't even care about the story for most of the time. I expected so much more from Scarlett.
And then the book ended on this incredible cliffhanger, and I have to give kudos to Garber for that. Although this particular story is wrapped up and the game does come to an end, it seems some people haven't stopped playing. Again, not everything is as it seems. And I have to admit, I am intrigued. But I don't know if I'm intrigued enough to read the as yet untitled sequel. It was such a slog getting through this one, I don't know if I can be bothered to risk seeing if the second will be the same.
Despite being marketed as for fans of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, both of which I adored, Caraval quite clearly wasn't for me. However, there have been so many people who have completely loved this book, so do go and read some other people's reviews before deciding whether or not you want to read this book.
Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton for the proof.
Published: 31st January 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Stephanie Garber's Website