Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Published: January 31, 2017
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
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.
Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.
Imagine for a second that your loved one was kidnapped and you had five days to get them back or they might disappear forever. That was just one of the many issues for the main character Scarlett Dragna. I expected to like this book but, I did not to expect to like it as much as I did. I tend to not to like hate to love tropes because they are predictable and while this was predictable I didn’t realize Julian Marrero was the main boy at first. The romance wasn’t overbearing, despite some reviews, it came in at good moments but I didn’t feel like it was the whole story. Many people criticized that Scarlett forgot her mission to save her sister Tella for her growing relationship but to be honest she did what normal humans would do. She was a girl scared for her and her sister’s life thanks to their father and when they got to this game island it was natural for her to mesmerized by the magic at times. The game island being Caraval, a legendary competition held by Legend and his cast of performers, where the audience can either watch the game or be a part of it.
“Welcome, welcome to Caraval! The grandest show on land or by sea. Inside you’ll experience more wonders that most people see in a lifetime. You can sip magic from a cup and buy dreams in a bottle. But before you fully enter into our world, you must remember it’s all a game.”
In a world like this Scarlett and Julian must keep their heads clear and focused on the game. Mixing fantasy with reality Caraval contestants could very well get lost in what is fake and loose their minds. It’s a place where one can’t let fear control them for risk of seriously going mad like others before them. The book made me feel as if I was a part of the competition with so many plot twists and turns I felt my head spinning. I read the book in two days and felt a loss when it was done because the cliff hanger just was not fair in the slightest. I can only hope Stephanie is hastily working on number two because I need to know what Tella’s end of the bargain is and why Legend mentioned their mother.
“Caraval was master Legend’s great playground. No words were spoken that he didn’t hear. Not even a whisper could escape his ears, no shadow went unseen by his eyes. No one ever saw Legend – or if they did, they didn’t know it was him – but Legend saw all during Caraval.”
1) Scarlett & Tella’s Relationship
My favorite thing out of this whole story was the close bond of Scarlett & Tella. While there were times when Scarlett mentioned a sort of jealousy it was never in an ill manner. It was more so that she wanted the courage her sister had after all they had been through. But I am getting ahead let me back up a bit. The book does speak of and details abuse by a parent so if that is something that could be a trigger for you, it is in the book. The author doesn’t glamorize it though so I was happy for that. Now as I said Scarlett and Tella had to endure much abuse that wasn’t only physical but to me emotional and mental as well. Governor Marcello Dragna often would punish one of the girls when the other would make a mistake because he knew it would hurt the sister not being harmed. He was a vile man and pathetic excuse for a father and in the end got far more than he deserved if I am honest. Scarlett spoke of many accounts throughout the story of what he did to them and it really was telling on how they both handled relationships with men differently but it also made their bond fierce. Scarlett would do anything to protect her sister and in the end, you see Tella was willing to do the same as she once stated: “I am willing to die.” Tella was the one who went after men trying and hoping to get the love her father withheld while Scarlett feared men and relationships with them. When she struck Julian her first instinct was to apologize and brace for him to strike her back. She was constantly plagued by fear and mistrust.
“But the hit she expected never came…You don’t need to be afraid of me. I’ve never hit a woman…he now made no attempts to charm or scare her.”
The sisters were vastly different but their bond and unconditional love were inspiring and it reminded me of the love I hold for my sister. I love to see a girl on girl friendship shown beautifully in YA literature but even more so sister bonds.
2) The Romance
“Your eyes keep finding the painted lock on my lips. You feel trapped and unsafe…Your eyes land here as well. You want love and protection.”
You should just expect that this will pop up in every review with a romance honestly. I am a true romantic and love reading about it in books. While yes Scarlett & Julian are a far cry from groundbreaking love it was cute and made my heart melt when he called her Crimson. Sue me I am a sucker for pet names. We meet Julian early on but I guess I am dumb because I really did not realize he was Scarlett’s love interest at first. I realized when he didn’t go away that he was important. Their banter was my favorite it was so cute and funny because he continued to tease her.
“Scarlett didn’t want to imagine what sorts of things this smile convinced other girls to do. “Don’t look at me like that,” Scarlett Said. “It doesn’t work on me.” “That’s why it’s so fun.”
Julian has lots of secrets but he is not as mysterious as he lets on and has a much more in common with Scarlett then the reader knows till the end. Scarlett really didn’t need him though which I liked because there were plenty of times she was by herself and still working to complete the games and solved many clues alone. I also loved the moments when Scarlett saw his vulnerability because of all the things he was hiding.
“He’d never stared at her like this before. Sometimes he gazed at her as if he wanted to be her undoing, but just then it was as if he wanted her to undo him.”
One of my favorite moments between them was when Julian gave Scarlet a day of his life. He was so gentle with her it was such a precious moment. One thing I noticed was when he teased her Julian called her Crimson but when he wanted her to know he was serious he called her Scarlett. It was just another aspect of their growing relationship I loved. Their first kiss was beautiful because I as so happy to see Scarlett trust someone and let them in after all she had been through. When his secrets do finally come to light it was a twist I wasn’t expecting especially when we learn how he started to care for her when he wasn’t supposed to even be around.
“According to the other players, Julian was meant only to get us to the isle and then take off.”
HE WAS MEANT TO LEAVE HER BUT DID NOT!!!! I am truly a sucker for romance.
3) The Clues & Competition
*Major Spoiler Section*
I loved feeling like I was with Scarlett trying to figure out the clues Legend gave the contestants. My book literally has highlights and post it notes all over for me to mark when I solved each clue and this is what I gathered.
Clue One: A key to Tella’s room so people know the game is about her (or so we think). This in itself was a mystery in the whole book trying to understand why the game was about her and when all is unraveled my head was spinning. I freaking love a good twist and this one was quite twisted in the best way possible.
Clue Two: The postcard of a palace in Tella’s room which she would not have because she hated them. This was a major advantage for Scarlett because she was Tella’s sister so the other contestants wouldn’t notice why this was an odd thing to appear in her suite.
Clue Three: Scarlett had to follow Noah (the boy with the heart mad of black i.e his tattoo). The rules said the third clue needed to be earned and when Scarlett told Nigel her fear which in turn made her earn the information she needed.
Clue Four: The journal from Aiko that was in color while everything around her was in black and white. The fourth clue said it would cost her something valuable which was her ability to see color by drinking a cider that made her see “more clearly.” She only saw what mattered and journal (her clue).
Clue Five: *HUGE SPOILER* I have two theories for this one. Clue five required a leap of faith and two times felt like it could’ve been the one to lead her to Tella. First was when she jumped into the black hole meeting Legend at the bottom and in turn finding her sister after their talk. But my bigger guess is when Tella jumps off the balcony and Scarlett learns the game isn’t over and why they are really there.
I felt like such a detective and found myself wishing I was on the island to see if I could really solve the mystery.
Now while I did like Stephanie’s writing style sometimes it was just so weird and trying too hard to be whimsical magical metaphors. It was the biggest issue for me so I will give two examples for you to better understand what I mean.
“Everything about this place reeked of Legend, even the scent of the fire pits, as if the logs were made of velvet and something slightly sweet.”
Honestly what the hell does that mean? What is one supposed to make from this? The logs are made of velvet and something sweet ??? So it looked like black licorice? Please explain this to me.
“It tasted like the moment before night gives birth to morning; it was the end of one thing and the beginning of something else all wrapped up together.”
WHAT DOES THE DUSK TASTE LIKE????? Please anyone who has had dusk for breakfast tell me what it tastes like because the author clearly has had it and I am missing out.
So funky writing aside I really enjoyed the magic of Carval, the cliched romance, the unbreakable bond of sisters, and all the twists and turns in between. I am really excited for book two because I have so many unanswered questions and I really want to meet the mysterious Legend once and for all.