YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Caraval (Caraval #1): by Stephanie Garber

Publish Date: January 31st, 2017
Number of Pages: 407 Pages
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Romance

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Your running through the streets of Venice, Italy at night with thousands of colorful lights dancing on the edge of your vision. The gondolas are traipsing through the canals, and a menagerie of people in glamorous costumes walk past. The sweeping feeling of adventure and slight danger as you turn towards the sailor that brought you there, the one that you know is hiding something, but you’re curiosity to find out overpowers the dread of the unknown. They take your hand, your heartbeat accelerates with attraction mixed with distrust as you run towards what you think may be the answer to the next clue on the list, and you forge on because it means getting that much closer to whatever it is you want most…

Thats some pretty cool sounding visuals, right?

This title is filled with aesthetically pleasing images and beautiful words that sweep you off your feet, take your breath away, and bring you on a magical adventure that so many readers, authors, and reviewers have praised since it’s initial release back in 2017.

I’d actually owned this book twice to be completely honest; I bought a copy earlier on, but gave up before I even opened it and sold it to a used book store, thinking that it sounded too juvenile for me and not worth my time, so that was it and I’ll never open those pages or even think about them ever again. But as time went on, and the other titles of this trilogy, Legendary & Finale, released and more and more praise rang out. That, plus a personal recommendation from my old store manager, I reluctantly bought another copy and decided to give it another chance, and was happy with that decision upon finishing this book!

This book was escapism literature in some of its finest form. I so easily got lost inside the pages; letting the imagery overtake my senses, and give me excitement over what would happen next, even as it got late into the night and I had to get up early for work the next day. It was nothing too dark or too serious of a read, and I think that’s what made it so much fun, honestly. There was danger, but nothing too dramatic or gritty as its essentially people playing this scavenger hunt in order to win an ultimate prize from its mysterious host.

What It’s About:

Our main protagonist’s name is Scarlett Dragna, and she lives on a tiny island somewhere what feels like some land thats similar to Italy or Greece, and she has one younger sister as they are the daughters of the Governor. Over the years, she’s dreamed of escaping his harsh rule, and has imagined going to Caraval, a once-a-year event where the audience is specifically chosen to arrive and to participate. She’d written letters to its mysterious host, Legend, at least once a year for many years, but to no response every time. Those dreams suddenly evaporate into a cloud of mist as the wedding day of her arranged marriage draws closer, but then the unthinkable happens…

She receives a letter from Legend. Inside, she finds three personal invitations to this years Caraval; one for her, her sister, and her betrothed.

Her younger sister, Tella, has always been the exact opposite of her. While Scarlett is cautious and sheltered, Tella is much more bold and impulsive. She allows herself to have more fun and to give into her desires. When Scarlett goes searching for her with the news of the letter, she discovers her down in the whiskey cellar in a compromising position with a handsome stranger. Fed up with their father’s unfairness, they decide to escape into the night and go towards their dreams, towards Caraval

Plans quickly change, and Tella ends up being kidnapped as soon as they set foot on the island where the magical event takes place, and it turns out that that she will revolve around this season’s contest as the winner will be whoever can find her first. With the help of a charming but aloof sailor, Julian, Scarlett races across the coastal town in search of her missing sister, swept up into the elaborate performance of it all. She will find out that things are NEVER as they appear to be, secrets are the way of currency, that everyone has some sort of motive and should be weary of being trusted.

How much of a game is it all, really?

What I Liked:

  1. The Aesthetics! Like the image I painted in the very first paragraph, the visuals this story paints for you are so incredibly gorgeous; I imagined Venice Italy celebrating Mardi Gras with Cirque du Soleil performers running around. Plus, coastal towns right on the ocean back in what I imagined as 17-1800 era Europe, and dress-wear that changes form and color with your emotions make for the overall setting of this story quite memorable.
  2. The Romance! Some people would say they didn’t like it or that it cheapened the story a bit, but I personally was a fan of it. A huge part of the book was the developing love story that was taking place while the game was escalating, and the mystery surrounding it along with everything else. I thought it developed rather well and I became invested with it as it was a great addition towards the enemies-to-lovers trope.
  3. Julian! I have to give him then MVP award of this book, because he was probably my favorite character out of everyone. Scarlett kind of took the heroine protagonist spot a little backwards, as she constantly got into trouble and needed a man, usually Julian himself, to come rescue her. It’s true its a part of her character arc, but I’d read too many badass female characters already to revert back to the damsel. Julian is bold, rugged, charming, secretive, and it was good to see him become a more important role to the overall plot instead of just being eye-candy. He’s constantly grappling with what he wants to do versus what he should do, and it’s great to see him usually choose the later, especially when it came to Scarlett.
  4. The Mystery/Lore of Caraval! It’s never really explained how the annual event came to be or how it disappears every year, along with the rumors and stories that surround the host, but the lore behind it all did add a whole lot to the story, making it more intriguing and fun to read! Hopefully, more answers come in the next books!
  5. Scarlett’s Terrible Decisions! The girl makes a ton of bad calls, no joke…if anyone’s seen the first Scary Movie, where Carmen Electra comes to a fork with two signs that point towards safety or death, I think you know which one Scarlett would probably take. I know A LOT of criticism towards this book is because of that, but honestly, I found it actually pretty realistic. She’s never done anything like Caraval before, she has a hot-but-distrustful sailor working with her and she’s constantly worried about her sister…whose mind would be in the right place during all that?! I’d for sure be making those bad calls too, and I thought it was endearing how she makes a lot of mistakes but still learns from some of them and finds an alternative path towards what she’s after.
SCARY MOVIE, Carmen Electra, 2000, ©Dimension Films/courtesy Everett Collection

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It Needed More Danger…While her sister is taken from her and the threat of what may happen drives Scarlett forward towards finding her, I still felt like the stakes could have been raised even higher with this story. It hardly felt like there was any actual danger as it’s supposed to be one big show/game/performance, but I can say there are a couple scenes that change this around. I wished the author added more scenes like those ones to give this book an even sharper edge.
  2. The Abusive Father…With all the lore, all the mystery, all the magic, I still found having an abusive father like Scarlett and Tella’s to be a little more ridiculous part of the story. It made their decision to run away almost too easy, but what really made me scoff was how he didn’t even try to hide the fact that he was abusive…Usually, abusers try to hide that little tidbit towards the public or anyone else; he’d only leave bruises on areas of the body that wouldn’t be seen, he’d try to keep up the persona that everything’s okay and normal, and wouldn’t dare try to strike anyone else in front of others either. Nope, he smacked his daughters around for everyone to see; he even struck other characters later on in the story, and it felt like cheap plot manipulation just to easily makes us hate him, and we do, but it could’ve been done better.

Conclusion:

Overall, this book was a fun, entertaining, magical, escapist read that is safe, but a great addition to the YA Fantasy genre nonetheless. I haven’t read this other title yet, but it has what I imagine to be a similar vibe to Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus. Even just reading the blurb, I feel like they have similar themes, aesthetics and story arcs (Not a bad thing, and I do plan on reading that title as well some day!)

I will definitely be reading the next books in this trilogy because while the ending was satisfying, it left some things open ended and hints at much more to come, and I want answers! This title isn’t too dark, ominous or creepy, and even the romance is pretty tame, but that’s totally okay! It’s supposed to be not be taken so seriously; a little more lighthearted, fun, fairytale-like and dreamy as it left images of lights, cobblestone streets at night, laughter in the air, and the chills that creep onto your skin as you sneak away into the night about to do something you know is wrong, but it feels so right!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell