Caraval #1. Author: Stephanie Garber.
Remember, it’s only a game…
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. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.
Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.
You know those books that have a really great premise, passable characters, a promising opening… and then just never make it? They’re close – sort of – to what they promised, but when it came down to it the author just couldn’t deliver?
That was Caraval.
We’ve got a fantastic magical setting in the carnival (which is definitely what it was, despite the one omitted letter. Caraval indeed), and there’s some delightfully whimsical description and intriguing rules/items. Sadly, Scarlett is too busy obsessing over the love interest, her flaws, and her sister to appreciate her setting.
I’m not sure where to start, so let’s just go through problems.
1: Yes, the mad obsession over Julian. You’ve heard me grumble about this a thousand times by now, but- describing a lad’s smoldering expressions and dreamy looks will never ever by a substitute for real connection, friendship, or especially a real plot. And Julian is a horrible LO! He literally kidnapped Scarlett, (with help from her sister, but still), and lies to her throughout the entire book and has ulterior motives. One character being flawed wouldn’t be a problem, if his ‘perfection’ wasn’t a huge focus of the book.
2. Scarlett’s younger sister, Tella. Uh… this whole problem evolved right at the end, so this number is one massive SPOILER ALERT. Skip to 3 if you wish. //
3. You can’t take away the tension after the characters go through with it. I don’t care that they made it, they survived, they’re done with that part of the story, you still can’t take away the danger/stakes. So I was highly disappointed with the ending for doing this.
Sexual Content: MC finds her sister in the cellar with a man – “What are you doing” “Scar, you’re getting married; I would think you’d be aware of what occurs between a man and a woman.” / ‘Julian’s smile turned seductive, all shameless curves and immoral promises. An invitation to places that proper young ladies didn’t think about, let alone visit.’ / MC goes looking for her sister in a hotel, and her sister won’t let her in, but she hears a man’s voice and makes ~assumptions~. (And does find out she’s wrong.)/ Some detailed kissing./ “You’ll be sleeping in your own room with Count D’Arcy. […] I don’t see why I need to make him wait any longer before enjoying what he’s bought.” (Note that she does escape this situation.)
Violence: Father strikes girl on the face with his fist, cutting her with his rings. MC remembers her father drowning a sailor who tried to help the girls. Character finds a dead body. One character stabs another, killing them.