BOOK REVIEW - CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber

CARAVAL by STEPHANIE GARBER

“Some things are worth pursuit regardless of the cost.” 
― Stephanie GarberCaraval




Pssst. Come closer… 


Closer than that… 


Just a little more…. 


I didn’t like this book. 





I know I know. I really wanted to enjoy this book. I did. I just.. Couldn't 

Caraval is a story about two sisters who have always dreamed of attending an annual performance/carnival event called CARAVAL. However, their father is extremely abusive and controlling, so leaving their home is pretty much off the table. Until finally one day Scarlett (sister one) receives exclusive invites to Caraval from the Master Legend himself. Scarlett is reluctant to leave as she doesn’t wish to anger their father, as well as the fact she is to marry a wealthy Count whom she has never met in ten days time. So Donatella (sister two) kidnaps Scarlett, fearing her sister may regret the decision not to go, with the help of a dashing young sailor called Julian and they make their way to Caraval. When they arrive, Donatella is kidnapped (Karma’s a bitch) as part of the game. Scarlett and Julian need to compete in the game to find Donatella before the other players do. 

There are a couple of extremely minor spoilers in this review – however they are in relation to things that are BLARINGLY OBVIOUS anyway so I don’t feel so bad. I have a lot to say so I’m going to break it down into sections for all our sakes and sanities. 


Setting


There was zero world-building in this book. Well now that’s unfair. There was like 1% world building in this book. I know that there is a ‘hot season’ and a ‘cold season’ and that the place names sound slightly Hispanic… -crickets- That’s it. 

I am not a huge fan of excessive world-building in books (take Tolkien for example), because I sometimes find all the history and politics hard to follow. But for goodness sake give me something! I have no idea of the layout of the world, I don’t know what the terrain of the world is like, there’s no mention of political state or class systems. What are the conquered isles and who conquered them? What is the currency? What is the climate like? GIVE ME SOMETHING STEPHANIE.

Even when we get into Caraval itself I struggle to picture the layout. The map at the beginning of the book just feels like a drawing of a generic village with canals and the odd building labelled as some kind of shop. There’s nothing unique about it…whereas the whole point of Caraval is that it is a very unique place.


Characters


I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that Scarlett Dragna is the most boring character I’ve ever had the displeasure of being stuck inside the head of. She contradicts herself throughout the book, blaming people for qualities that she is guilty of herself. Example: 

Scarlett – “You can’t be in love with someone who just met...” 

-delicately raises one eyebrow- 

Says the girl who was ready to marry a man she never met ‘because his letters sound nice’ and ended up going goo-goo over Julian in less than five days. 

Speaking of this bloody wedding. Get ready for half of her dialogue to be. “I have to get back for my wedding...” “I can’t miss my wedding...” “But what about the wedding?...” BLAH BLAH BLAH girl I swear… 


When she’s not going on about her wedding, she’s going on about how much she loves her sister. I have three sisters who I love fiercely. But I wasn’t buying it. She made terrible decisions regarding her sisters safety, chose other things OVER her sister, or was just too caught up with Julian’s abs to remember Donatella even exists. 


Also, towards the end of the book a SHOCKING EVENT happens which absolutely devastates Scarlett. She is beside herself. When this SHOCKING EVENT turns out to have never happened in the first place she isn’t really bothered. It even reads “Scarlett wanted to be thrilled…” but she isn’t. So all the fuss in the first place was for nothing. – eyeroll- 



She is naïve, whiney, boring, gutless and if I never read a character like her again it will be too soon. 



Julian –insert stereotypical hot, mischievous, lying, teenager leading man trope- I present Julian. 



Donatella is really nothing more than a brat.



I want to talk also about the villain in this book, Scarlett and Donatella’s father; Governor Dragna. Here is a list of reasons he is a villain. 



-He beats his children.



That’s literally all we are given. He’s an antagonist for the sake of being an antagonist. There is absolutely no exploration into WHY he beats his children, WHY he is the way he is. I am not looking for something to sympathise here, anyone who beats their children is obviously an asshole. I just think that the author missed a trick here. Villains can be some of the most interesting characters in books... just not this one.



SPECIAL SHOUTOUT to my favourite side character in this book. He is a mysterious, handsome, future teller who is covered in beautiful ink illustrations. He resides in the heart of Caraval in the glittering palace of Castillo Maldito. And for some reason the author has decided to name this character NIGEL. 




I honestly had to put the book down and laugh uproariously at this point. 


Story Issues 


I am a big ol’ fan of the ‘trials’ trope. Anything that includes games, trials, competitions, sign me up. I'm trash for it.


But I didn’t feel like the game of Caraval had any real structure. Scarlett is given a badly written poem at the start of the game which indicates where the clues may be found. But it all felt very subjective and interpretive. Like there were no real solid clues or answers or huge revelations. It was all just “Oh I guess it could mean this, lets go with that and see what happens.” Or “Oh look a button, I bet that means something, don’t know what though". How can we play a game if we don’t know the rules huh? 

There were so many elements to this book that the author didn’t explore/bother to figure out. There is even an instance in the book where she neglects to explain how something works, by literally using the excuse that the character doesn’t know - SO HOW THE HELL SHOULD SHE KNOW?

The end of the book was a huge info-dump. I think the author was going for a collection of twists and revelations, hoping to invoke a reaction like “Oh! Ah! Wow! Didn’t see that coming! Holy crap!” but instead wound up with “Huh? Excuse me? That doesn’t make sense? Surely this book is ending soon? Oh forget it.” 

PLUS – no one eats in this book. They’re in Caraval for like five whole days and NO ONE EATS. I cannot relate to this story. Sorry. 

Writing Style 

I understand what the author was trying to do with the writing style. I do. But I didn’t like it. It was extremely flowery and over descriptive. The over description wasn’t even inclusive of a variety of descriptions, it was all ‘tastes’. Everything in this book ‘tastes’ of something. Not even things that have tastes. Random.. tasteless things. Let me explain with a few example sentences. 


“Scarlett only tasted bitter"



“He tasted like midnight and wind" 



“It tasted like the moment before night gives birth to morning" 



"The world tasted like lies and ashes when Scarlett woke.”



“Something acidic and mouldy and burnt bubbled up through Scarlett’s throat - the taste of death.” 




Maybe that's why no one ate anything in this book. They were too full up from tasting their surroundings. Once we’re done with tasting everything, we move onto the other description vomit. COLOURS. Because special wee Scarlett can somehow see emotions in colours (of course).

“Silver rush of excitement” 

"Shades of rich brown and light blue. Colors that made her feel safe and guarded."

"Shades of the rich ruby love she’d felt during the game mixed with hues of deep-indigo hurt, turning everything just a little bit violet."

“She could see the sting of her rejection in shades of stormy blue, ghosting over his heart like sad morning mist."

“Periwinkle curiosity”

“It came in cool shades of forget-me-not blue"

Let me give it a go. Eh-he-hem. ‘This book made me feel shades of beige.’ 

I also feel as though this book needed some serious editing. There were a lot of sentences that were slightly off in their construction, or used the same word three or four times.

For my own levels of enjoyment I am giving this book 3/10 Stars.



So there we have it friends. It's obvious I didn't enjoy this book, but I know that there are a lot of folks who love it - and that's fine by me. It at least held my attention enough to power through, but I will definitely not be reading book number two - Legendary.


Quote © Stephanie Garber 2017

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