Friday, March 10, 2017

Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Owl Crate's February box was circus themed, which contained a lot of cool stuff. The book was unsurprisingly Caraval by Stephanie Garber. A friend of mine actually received an ARC of the book a few months ago and told me I had to read it. So when I learned the theme of February's box, I knew I would receive Caraval and finally see what she'd been talking about.


Two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, have never left the island they call home due to their cruel father. But their chance for escape is a week away with Scarlett's upcoming arranged marriage. Until Scarlett receives three tickets to Caraval, a magical and mysterious carnival-esque game and performance. When Tella makes plans to attend Caraval, dragging Scarlett with her, Scarlett thinks it can only mean trouble. But instead it's worse--Tella is kidnapped for this year's game, and it's up to Scarlett to find her before the game ends. But nothing in Caraval is real or safe. Or is it?

What I Liked

Sister relationships
I'm an advocate for books with good sister relationships, and Caraval has a great sister relationship. Scarlett and Tella prove time and time again their love and care for another. They protect each other against their father and they also push each other to do things they wouldn't normally. Scarlett attends Caraval in order to find Tella, and she's determined to win in order to rescue her. I think that's admirable. While the sister-relationship got sidetracked during the book, it did pull through in the end. Sister relationships are just my favorite thing ever, okay?

Okay, let's talk about Julian, the mysterious sailor that helps Tella and Scarlett get to Caraval. He was... great. I knew there was something interesting happening with him because of all of his advice to Scarlett, but his actions kept me guessing on who he was and why he knew so much. I like all the twists and turns Stephanie Garber gave to his character. He was probably my favorite character of the book. 

Caraval itself was beautiful. The descriptions were dazzling and weird and bizarre. Some of them probably didn't make a whole lot of sense, but I feel like that fit so well with the book and what it was trying to do that I didn't mind. I mean, Lewis Carroll doesn't always make sense in his books, and he's been getting away with it for over a century. My favorite part of the book was the descriptions of Caraval. It was truly magical.

The idea for the book--a mysterious, magical carnival that shows up without warning and provides entertainment, mystique, and intrigue for its contestants--is incredible. I mean, half the reason I picked this book up was because of the concept. (The other half is because that cover is just plain gorgeous.) I love that Legend, the ringmaster, never shows his face; I love the dreams and the shops and the rules to the game. I loved all the bizarre and wonderful things that happen within the story. The concept is freaking amazing.

What I Didn't Like

Unfortunately, I wasn't too keen on Scarlett as the protagonist. Something about her bothered me for most of the book. I couldn't tell if it's because of how often I was told things about her instead of shown things or whether it's because everything Scarlett believed about herself was not how she acted. She claimed to be selfless and brave and caring for her sister, but most of her decisions were reckless, naive, and just plain terrible. She was easily distracted by... well, everything. And even up until the end, I didn't really feel she changed or grew as a character into something more, something better. I wanted to like her, I truly did, but I just didn't. And the whole "sensing colors" thing was weird and never really explained. I was hoping it would dig her deeper into the history of Caraval or something, but it was never explained.

The ending
I didn't like the ending. I felt like it was a cop-out and that everything the book was building to didn't pan out like I wanted. I don't know if it's because there is a sequel (which I wasn't expecting) or if it's just the way the book fell flat for me. Everything was too nice and neat. There also wasn't a perfect resolution, so I don't know where to leave the characters. Obviously their story isn't finished, but it still left me wondering an awful lot.

Predictable yet not
Caraval, at times, felt super predictable, which was aggravating and kind of boring. Yet every time I predicted something that came true, the idea would get turned on its head. Yes, you're right... sort of. And it didn't make sense why any of those easy-to-guess twists would suddenly not pan out at all. She placed so many hints in the book, foreshadowing events, but they never rang true. I found that confusing and a bit hard to follow. I like there to be a balance, enough to let my mind work on guessing things correctly while at the same time being surprised by new ideas that are more brilliant than I could think up. Caraval just didn't have that balance.

Tell, Don't Show (Wait...)
One of my biggest peeves about the book was that the author told us a lot of stuff about Caraval and the characters, instead of showing. Over and over, we hear about how much Scarlett cares about Tella, how much she wants to attend Caraval, how much she wants to escape her father's abuse, etc. But we don't see her doing any of this, not really. Sure, she plays the game to find her sister, to rescue her sister. Until she gets caught up in the game, distracted by Julian and Dante and all the other people, and whines about everything that's happening to her. There was a lot of telling instead of showing, and it dragged down the story for me. I couldn't quite connect with Caraval


Caraval is an enchanting story that's full of wonder and mystery, romance and friendship, danger and darkness. I can definitely see why many people will read it and fall in love with it. I think if you love carnivals or mysterious and bizarre concepts, you should give it a try. It's an intriguing story. I wish there had been more to it, more depth, maybe more time to let the story flourish, but I can understand why this book will be hyped for a 2017 read. And who knows, maybe I'll try it again in the future and it'll catch me in a new way. After all... it's only a book. 

Or is it?

~I received Caraval by Stephanie Garber through the Owl Crate Monthly Book Box Subscription. I chose to review it of my own free will. All opinions are my own.~

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