Caraval – Caraval #1 – Stephanie Garber
Release date: January 31st, 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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.
With a great concept as this one, I was expecting to be drawn in and enraptured by this story straight away. However, I had some serious problems with the book that really diminished my reading pleasure. When first reading the synopsis, I imagined the fabled Caraval to be something like Cirque du Soleil. It is not though, far from it. It is a magical and mysterious game. People who are invited can choose to watch or to participate. If you participate you have to solve a mystery by following clues. The winner gets a special prize, in this case a wish. It’s a ruthless game though, that pushes the participants to their limits. Nothing is as it seems and nobody can be trusted.
What bothered me the most about this is the main character Scarlett. Her thought process and the way she reacted to certain situations felt deliberately stupid. This particular one happens about 13% in, so if you don’t want to read any spoilers after 10% you should skip this paragraph.
Our main character is in a little boat, a guy she knows as a sailor is rowing her to an island. There appears to be a leak in the boat and the boat starts to sink. The sailor tells her to take off her clothes and jump in the water. Let’s get our facts straight here, she’s in a life-threatening situation with someone she knows to be a professional at sea. Instead of following his instructions, she decides to keep trying to row (REALLY?). When she realises this is not going to work (Obviously not, your boat is sinking) she just jumps in the water without taking off her corset and heavy victorian dress. Because that’s a really smart move… Obviously in no time she’s drowning and she has to be saved by the before mentioned sailor. While he’s saving her from drowning by cutting away most of her clothes, the only thing she thinks about is “Oh my, a boy is touching me, I’ve never been touched by a boy like this. This is inappropriate, because I’m engaged to a guy I’ve never met and I should be faithful to him. But I’m blushing though, because you know, a boy is touching me.” YOU’RE. DROWNING. You’re in an ice cold ocean, nowhere near the shore and you’re thinking about that? Not likely.
The game of Caraval itself was very confusing and Scarlett most of the times went “This must be a clue, because it matches the hint we got about the clue in the beginning!” with me not seeing the connection at all. I must admit, it had its good moments. The setting was great: a little town full of weird things and people who could be actors, but could also just be other people playing the game. That part of the book made me think of playing Bioshock Infinite a bit, wandering through this weird city, not knowing what will be around the next corner, experiencing some mind-blowing things. There was some great potential here. The book didn’t use all that potential unfortunately, though the ending made up for a lot of it.
Despite my huge problems with the book in the beginning (and partly throughout the rest of it too) I must say the ending was very good. It surprised me, in a good way, and made me re-evaluate a lot of things. Not in a way that made my negative comments disappear, but still enough to make me feel more ok with the book. In short: the characters were in my opinion frustrating and the major thing that really made this book less enjoyable. The setting and the idea however were great and though the execution could have been done better, it was still a thrilling concept brought to life.