Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Release Date: 21st January 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆
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.
I just want to say congratulations to Caraval’s marketing and publicity team.
I have never seen a debut novel from a debut author have so much buzz before until every single person was talking about Caraval. I first learnt about this book way back in July 2016, when ARCs were being given away as if we were the dehydrated people in a desert and Caraval was that one flask of water. People were given challenges, puzzles and riddles and in the end, only one or two would receive these precious ARCs. I was not one of those lucky few, but Caraval had been placed into my mind like a need.
I’d also missed the chance to read an eARC from Netgalley. I had written feverishly to the publishers, begging for a copy of this beautiful book that everyone had been talking about. I entered every giveaway, brought it up in every Twitter chat, and saw that Stephanie Garber was touring in the U.S. AND the U.K. because of all the buzz. People were crazy about Caraval!
And finally, after months of waiting, I got it. A beautiful hardcover with a golden emblem inside. Again! A hardcover! a debut hardcover from a debut author! So much trust!
Hype kills. I feel like I should get this tattooed on my forehead. I say it often, but yet I still fall into the trap; I get swept up and board that hype train straight to disappointment.
Caraval, from start to finish, is very a rushed novel that suffered from a stunted imagination. Not only is it confusing in a non-curious way, it seems that no one understands what’s really going on, as if everything that happens is on accident, rather than precisely calculated, which I think is how it’s supposed to come across. We are whisked through the magic of Caraval, which has as little magic as possible inside with actually more dodgy people than actual magic and wonder. And when I say whisked, I literally mean we are gripped by the hand and whisked so fast that we barely see it. Most of the time the story takes place in a hotel which is neither magic nor interesting, it’s literally just where the characters sleep. The characters sleep for a good portion of this novel.
Speaking of characters; Scarlett, our MC, has no traits. She cares for her sister (although that is also questionable) and she gets flustered a lot. She believes everything even when told to not believe anything and is constantly thinking about how attractive different men are. She’s easily swayed by them, especially Julian who acts so suspiciously throughout and when Scarlett questions it, he gives her fleeting answers which she’s just fine with because he has muscles.
As a word of warning, a lot of awful stuff does happen in Caraval which is glossed over as unimportant. So, for trigger warnings, there is physical and emotional abuse, as well as preludes to sexual assault and rape. Scarlett feels very little emotion when it comes to certain things, and when bad things happen to her, she easily forgets and forgives when she’s provided with pretty dresses and parties. This includes her sister Tella who is, to Scarlett, wild and unpredictable when really, she just likes to run off with men. That’s literally it.
I could even go as far to say that this novel is really just a romance novel. Bad things are happening. Ridiculous things are happening. And, like in many dystopian/apocalyptic novels, the characters are more focused on love and romance rather than the things that they should actually be concerned about. I felt nothing towards the characters, but then again I felt nothing towards this story. There was no depth, but I felt that there could have been if this story was worked on more. I felt like we only scraped the surface of what could be an intricately woven story, one with magic and mystery and intrigue. But I’m sorry, this was not what this was.