Remember, it’s only a game…
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.
Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.
THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW
It’s books like this that make me suspicious of overnight successes that clog my bookstagram feed. What a complete disappointment. There was nothing clever about this book; it wasn’t “unique.” It was a bore and a chore to get through. The plot was laughable, the characters paper thin, and the writing style disengaging. The world, which was supposed to be one of the major draws of the book, was meh. For a book that haunts my social media, it’s just as insubstantial as a ghost.
What Worked for Me
All of it.
The plot • • • To be fair, I can see how this book could be entertaining plot-wise, but only if you wanted something cheap and easy and didn’t want to think too hard, or, you know, at all. This book tried so hard to be clever, but the effort was so obvious. You shouldn’t be able to tell when the author is being clever until after the curtain comes down. Anytime something fishy was going on, you could tell, because it was like the author was in the corner cackling, smug, so delighted that you were falling for it. Um, no. This plot did not hold up under any amount of scrutiny. I wanted to be shocked, surprised, horrified, and I was–at my own ability to get through the book.
The writing style • • • I’ve heard the writing style described as “unique.” I didn’t realize “unique” now refers to “telling, like there’s no other way of writing.” This entire book was told to me, which does a massive injustice to the world, which would have been really interesting if only I was actually experiencing it instead of just reading it. And it’s certainly not helped along by Scarlett’s narration, as I go into below.
The characters • • • Oh my god, I am so done with the “man of honor in a den of thieves” or “rogue with heart of gold” tropes. I used to love that trope (Hello, Malcolm Reynolds!), but now it’s being butchered all over the place that I just can’t even with it anymore. Yes, I’m looking at you, love interest.
What really ruined this, though, was Scarlett. Scarlett is just there; I did not feel anything for her character at any point. She went about the entire story with this really innocent, doe-eyed swagger that was so fake and so contrived that it completely disengaged me from her. She just didn’t have any personality! So I’m just sat back here reading because I’ve got nothing else to read, which is not how I want to feel when I’m reading.
I don’t even want to go into it with her sister, Tella.
Another instance where the book sells on idea alone but that’s where the magic stops.
407 pages • Book 1 • Published January 2017 by Flatiron Books