Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Caraval (Stephanie Garber)

Title: Caraval
Series: Caraval, Book 1
Author: Stephanie Garber
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release Date: January 31, 2017
Genre: Young Adult Alternate Fantasy
Told: Third Person Limited (Scarlett), Past Tense
Content Rating: Older Teen (physical abuse by a parent, sensuality, violence, murder, suicide)
Format Read: ARC (publisher)
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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.

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Review copy provided by publisher for an honest review. Thank you, Flatiron!

In a Sentence: An alternate fantasy with a familiar and interesting world and game but contradictory telling versus showing, a frustrating main character, and a weak sibling bond.

Caraval was one of those books that I really wanted to like, thought I might like, but wasn't too surprised when I didn't.

Writing & Characters: At over 400 pages, Caraval not only was but felt like a really long read with too much uninteresting description and Scarlett overthinking everything. There was also way too much insistent telling that was contradicted by what was actually shown, especially concerning the promised “unbreakable bond between two sisters” the story said it had but I never really saw

Scarlett constantly underestimated and discounted her smarter and stronger younger sister, always assured that she was incapable of taking care of herself or making good decisions and had to be rescued. Not that Tella was always foremost in Scarlett's mind, though. While she was supposed to be focused on finding Tella, Scarlett was constantly distracted by thoughts of her upcoming nuptials, which she swore was about saving them both but was really just about her. And that would've been okay - marrying someone is a big deal, and essentially all about you (well, and the person you're marrying). But the fact that she kept trying to convince herself it was about her and Tella when it really wasn't rubbed me wrong. And Tella was the same way. She said she cared about Scarlett more than anything, that she felt responsible for making sure her sister was happy. But her personality was predominantly selfish and adventurous, and I never really bought any actions contradictory to that. Together, no matter how hard I looked, I just didn't see the strong sisterly bond the book insisted it possessed - two sisters does not an unbreakable bond make.

Romantic Relationships: There were two romantic interests for Scarlett: her unseen fiance, and her mysterious Caraval partner. The outcome of the fiance was no surprise and I'm glad it wasn't, although I was secretly hoping for more of a shock for who it turned out to be. The partner was a heavy case of instalust that did not sit well with me as they were so unbearably physically drawn to each other despite no other attraction and in fact a bit of revulsion and indifference otherwise. Overall both "relationships" disappointed and disturbed me in different ways, but thankfully both ended realistically, which I appreciated.

StoryDespite a promising dark and twisted game concept, for the most part I found Caraval too confusing and way too coincidental. The clues were impossible for me to follow and it was always a surprise when Scarlett somehow found her way, which made it feel as if the game were conforming to her decisions instead of her actually solving anything. (Maybe it was? Hence my confusion.) Since every clue I thought I deciphered turned out to be false, I eventually gave up trying to guess and thereby lost most of my interest in the game itself.

This left only one element of the story to keep me reading: the mystery that was Scarlett's Caraval partner. It kept me interested despite a lot of frustration with Scarlett and an occasionally elevated level of character stupidity that made me put the book down and walk away a few times. But even that mystery eventually grew tiresome as the truth was revealed and then disproved and then revealed and then disproved again until I really couldn't care less who he was anymore and just wanted the mystery over with. The final answer, which wasn't revealed until the last chapter, was a little left field and rather disappointing compared to my guesses, but by then that was no surprise. After all the frustration and dashed promises, the story's end left me feeling a bit gypped but satisfied enough, I guess. I was happy with how one character turned out, but very "whatever" with the rest. 

Setting: The setting was the only aspect of the book that didn't disappoint. The dazzling but unnerving world reminded me of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland while the fun yet sinister game was reminiscent of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. There wasn't nearly enough of the world for me though, and what little teaser snippets there were always left me wanting more that would never come. 

ConclusionAlthough I did enjoy the classically reminiscent world and game, there was way too much uninteresting description, Scarlett was too distracted and overthought everything to the point of frustration, and I never truly felt the sisterly bond. While the mysterious partner was intriguing, after way too many switchbacks I lost interest before the final conclusion, and while the end was for the most part satisfying it left me feeling a bit cheated.

Will I read the next book?: I actually wasn't expecting this to be a series, so despite my problems with Caraval the epilogue did intrigue me. However, while I am a little tempted to read the sequel since it will focus on what was, in this book, a stronger and smarter character, the foreshadowed plot has all the hallmarks of more of the same stupidity-inducing antics that frustrated me in this book and I’m not sure if the world and game are dazzling enough for me to put up with it a second time.

For Fans Of: A.G. Howard's Splintered Series

Scribble Rating
2 of 5 Scribbles

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