Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her 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 faraway, 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. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.
I’m actually having a really hard time deciding on a rating for Caraval. I don’t really do half-star ratings, but this was definitely somewhere between a 3 and a 4 for me. Maybe writing this review will help me figure it out…
I really really REALLY didn’t like the beginning. It felt so juvenile. And I don’t mean that I thought it was for kids. The writing seemed so … amateurish. Cliche. Silly. It was everything. The style, the characters, the plot, all of it. The end was pretty cliche too. Very predictable, even though I could tell Garber was trying to catch me by surprise.
But I LOVED the middle. I couldn’t put it down! The writing drastically improved (although it could be that I just stopped noticing how poor it was, I guess) as the pace picked up, and the plot got much more interesting and less predictable. At the beginning of the novel Caraval seemed a huge rip-off of Le Cirque du Reves in The Night Circus, but as it went on it really developed into its own thing. Scarlett really grew on me as a character too. At first she was boringly one-dimensional, only worried about saving her sister. But as the game went on she discovered that there was more to life than just keeping her sister safe, and she got a lot more interesting.
I’m also of two minds about the romance. Again, at the beginning it was beyond cliche, so much so that I tweeted about how the falling-in-love-with-a-rogue trope is getting old. But towards the middle I started believing it more. I appreciated that the kissing/romance scenes were heart-fluttering, maybe even goosebumpy, without being sexual. However, I think over-all the romance came out more on the cliche-side.
Finally, I’m annoyed this is a series. There were definitely unanswered questions, but I genuinely don’t care enough to want another book. Does every YA novel have to be a series now? Honestly, I prefer a good one-off…
So I guess there’s my answer. I enjoyed this novel, quite a bit in the middle, but it wasn’t good enough to be a 4-star. I would definitely recommend it to teens who like action/adventure with a little romance, but probably not to someone with more reading experience and a preference for “adult” literature.