by Stephanie Garber
Release Date: January 31, 2017
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Book #1 in the Caraval series
Number of Pages: 416
Source: Amazon Purchase
Read 1/7/20 to 1/25/20
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.
Something I want to mention before getting to the meat of my review. While this is a YA story, and my way of doing things is rating books ala the movie rating system, I felt PG-13 was a decent rating. But, as always when it comes to kids and reading, *not all 13-year-olds (or 14, or 15, etc.) have the maturity for this story. If you’re a parent, aunt, uncle, sibling, whatever of a younger teen who wants to read this, use your judgment on the specific kid by reading the story for yourself first.
I have been hearing and reading about this book for a while now. As usual, I was leery to jump right into a story I felt was getting a lot of hype since I tend to be disappointed if book doesn’t live up to its hype. Then, time just got away from me and I kept telling myself I’d read it later. I finally picked it as my book club pick so I’d have no excuse to put off reading this book that I kept hearing is wonderful and magical.
It’s quite unfortunate that I didn’t fall in love with this story the way it seems most other people have. Often, when reading YA that’s just not speaking to me, I wonder if I’m missing something because of my age. Some unnamed thing that somehow disappears after a certain age??? I know, that sound ridiculous. But I also don’t want to judge any book too harshly when I’m just not the target audience. I’m not saying I didn’t like this book…it just didn’t sweep me away as it seems to have done with other readers. I went back to read some of the glowing reviews to make sure I wasn’t mistaken, and I wasn’t. Many adults over the age of 30, even 40 and 50, enjoyed this story immensely. So, I feel confident it wasn’t an age thing, just something that didn’t click with me.
Let me go back and tell you some of the things I really enjoyed about this story. I liked the main character, Scarlett, for the most part. Especially once she started standing up for herself a bit more. And I really thought the character of Julian was a lot of fun. Sometimes I was suspicious of him, sometimes he made me swoon, and sometimes I would get extremely angry with him and his secrets. In my mind, that’s a wonderful character. He truly kept me engaged in this book when I wasn’t entirely on board with the rest of the story. The premise of this story had so much potential and leaves the door open to many other stories that can be told. That was another thing I liked about this book.
Here is something I don’t think I’ve EVER said about a book. In fact, I’m sure there aren’t many avid readers who have…I think I would enjoy this story more as a movie than I did as a book. There are a lot of descriptions and colors, but no real world building the way I want in a story. If a movie was done right, it would be a masterpiece to look at. After a while, I hate to admit that I got sick of the color descriptions. In fact, it almost seemed there were more in the last half of the story than the first half. I didn’t need all that prose anymore and, quite frankly, it distracted me from the story. Other than one particular part, Scarlett and her colors were not necessary to move the story forward.
One of the things I struggled with was my dislike of Scarlett’s sister, Tella. It was hard for me to be on board with Scarlett’s struggle when I felt she was giving too much of herself to someone who didn’t appreciate her half as much as she should. I don’t do spoilers, but let’s just say things would have ended very differently if I had been Scarlett. At some point, Tella made a choice and thought she could manipulate her narrative as well as her sister’s without talking to Scarlett first. No matter the love Scarlett felt for Tella (or maybe because of that love), I would have made a different choice at the end if I were her. Because of the magic and subterfuge, as far as Scarlett knew there were some people making firm choices and others getting hurt just for trying to be good to her. Okay, enough before I give anything away.
Here’s the thing, there are 3 books in this series. If you would have asked me when I was halfway through this book if I’d read the others my answer would have been a firm no. Yet, somehow the author pulled me back into the story for the last 25% or so. I was finally engaging with the story and the felt more of a connection to the characters. Now, I’m not so sure what I’ll do. I’m curious, if nothing else. Also, that last bit of the book notched my rating up a good half to whole star.
All in all, I’m quite a bit disappointed to say that this book I was looking forward to for so long was just “meh” for me.
My book club’s take:
Like I said in my review of A Woman is No Man, there were only 3 of us at book club. I was the youngest of the three and the one that liked the book the least. Once again, my thought that I was “too old” for the story was proven wrong. But neither of the other ladies fell under its spell, either. As one said, the story is firmly okay.
What I found interesting is that neither of them felt that Scarlett loved her sister more than Tella loved her. That was such an overwhelming feeling for me that it was strange to me that others that didn’t totally love the story wouldn’t have the same feelings. But both did feel the world building was weak, as I did.
My aunt had a funny idea, at least I found it funny. When she was done reading Caraval, she put a hold on Finale (the 3rd and last book in the series) at her library instead of the second book. She said that she didn’t enjoy the writing enough to want to read 3 books, but she’s curious about where Tella and Scarlett go from here and if there will be any mention of their mom. Therefore, read the last book and see if she gets her answers. That made me laugh. I am a completionist. I can’t skip around in a series, it truly gives me anxiety.
(One final note about the age/YA thing. I have read Throne of Glass multiple times. I picked it as a book club pick years ago because I wanted to be able to discuss the series with my book club ladies. Everyone LOVED the book and most went on to read the whole series. We’re actually a group that usually loves YA.)
Okay people, on to next book club. We will be reading The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood. (We read The Handmaid’s Tale about 10 years ago and loved her writing.) We’ll be meeting on Sunday, March 22, 2020. If you read along and have any questions or comments for my book club, please let me know before that time. Otherwise, I’ll be back with my review of the book (and the thoughts of my book club) the week following our book club meeting.
My book club decided to postpone this month’s planned meeting during the Covid-19 pandemic. I’ll update the new book club date once this upward trend starts heading down and we can decide on a new (safer) date.