Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber ★★

caraval“Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality…”

Well, that is true. The reality definitely differs from everything I’ve heard about this book. And that reality is??measly stars. Ohhhh man, was I excited about this one! I mean, look at that cover; it’s flippin gorgeous. I was immediately intrigued by this one, both for the cover and the synopsis. I read the 3 chapter preview of Caraval right when that was released and then I waited very impatiently for the actual book to come out. Once it did and I got my hands on it? Well, sadly, I was pretty dang disappointed. I was so upset, because I wanted to LOVE this book, but….I don’t know. Something was definitely lacking for me.

The book is centered around two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who are trying to escape their abusive father. Scarlett, the careful one, has made it her mission in life to protect her younger sister, the reckless one. When Tella brings home a young sailor name Julian, who offers to take them to the magical game of Caraval, held by the famous magician Legend, Tella jumps at the chance. Scarlett hesitates, despite the fact that she has been longing for this moment her entire life and Legend has just written her back for the first time ever. He had even given her three entrance tickets…I wonder where this is going?? With Scarlett still unable to decide, Tella and Julian take matters into their own hands and basically knock her out, kidnap her, and force her to go to Caraval. However, once they arrive, it quickly becomes apparent that the game is not the sanctuary that Scarlett thought it was, and hardly benevolent. Scarlett begins to play to find Tella, who has now gone missing.

Thus begins the main (often dragging) plot point of Caraval – Scarlett and Julian are searching for the sister. But of course, along the way, they are thrown together and have to pretend to be engaged. Oh, they fell in the water, so Scarlett is all wet and her clothes are see-through! So who cares that she almost drowned?! Boring. The romance angle was obvious, from the first moment of Scarlett thinking Julian was rude and uncouth, and the bickering began. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good enemies-turned-lovers plotline! And flirty banter?? That shiz is my jam right there. But it has to be done well. There has to be some thought behind it, some substance and feeling. And I just did not get that with these two. Especially when we are supposed to believe that Scarlett cares about her sister above all else and is SO worried for her, yet can’t stop thinking about Julian’s abs or lips.

Basically, that is how the entire book felt for me. It lacked substance. I was so excited to see this “legendary” (haha) world of Caraval, because it sounded so magical and tantalizing, with an edge of malice. I was practically drooling to dive in! However, it was nothing like I expected. The world is apparently all contained in a single room (tent?) that in my head looked like the Colosseum. You descend some stairs to get to the city, but then nothing in it is really described. There are gondolas and a hotel, some dreary looking buildings, a dress shop, etc. etc. Where is the magic? Where is the wonder and mystery? Most of the book at this point is filler and Scarlett equal parts worrying about finding her sister, and then forgetting all about her sister to worry about Julian’s mysterious gaze *eye roll*. I was waiting the entire book for it to get good, but it never did! There was a distinct lack of word building, character building, and complexity in the plot, which for me, brings down my enjoyment of a book immensely.

There were some interesting tidbits thrown in, of course, and the book did keep me interested enough to finish it. But for the most part, nothing happened. There is apparently a deadline for finding the sister, but Scarlett wastes an entire day by buying the wrong dress and dying a little bit (not kidding). I was intrigued for about a minute or so, when the author led readers to believe that Julian was Legend, but that theory is quickly squashed. And speaking of Legend, who at that point seemed like the only interesting character to me, didn’t even show up until the end of the book. And that ending was so rushed! While the rest of the book dragged on and on, the ending seemed completely thrown together with some half-baked info dumps and a few fake deaths to top it off. Ugh, frustrating. I am not even sure if it all made sense, but I couldn’t be bothered to figure it out at that point. I was ready to be done with the thing.

Apparently, there is going to be a sequel and I miiiiight read it? I don’t know yet. The little cliffhanger ending/sequel plug seemed mildly interesting, but I think the only thing that would get me to read it is more of Legend. He really was the only interesting character.

So, overall, the reality is that I would give this 2.5 out of 5 disappointed stars. What’d you think, Cake?

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“Tragically, playing with my food was far better than actually eating it, in this case.”

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