CARAVAL (Caraval #1) - by Stephanie Garber

CARAVAL - Stephanie Garber
Published: 2017 - by Hodder Paperbacks.
Genres: Young adult / fantasy / romance / magic / mystery
Pages: 304.
Source: Thank you to Jonathan Ball Publishers SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.
Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game. Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved 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 far-away, 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. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever

I buddy-read this book with the wonderful Caitlin from Quills & Coffee. Although we were both found Caraval rather disappointing, we did have such a fun time chatting about it and discussing.

I am overcome with contrasting emotions. This is such a hard review to write. I cannot tell you how excited I was to read this book and to say I was eager to love it would be a huge understatement. I was ready to find my new favourite book in Caraval. But I didn't, and I'm heartbroken. Now I have to try collect my scattered feelings and compose a coherent review.

“Whatever you've heard about Caraval, it doesn't compare to the reality. It's more than just a game or performance. It's the closest you'll ever find yourself magic in this world.”

I'm not a big fan of third person, especially in YA. This coupled with the huge amount of telling instead of showing - especially at the beginning of the book - made for some stilted, clumsy writing. It was frustrating and aggravating, and although it admittedly got a lot less noticeable as I read on, it never fully went away.
The language and writing is my biggest problem with this book. It's bright purple, flowery beyond flowery, and frequently just unbearable. Statements like "periwinkle curiosity" and " the colour of late night laughter" were ridiculous. In addition, emotions were constantly given colours - the most flowery, adjective-littered colours. It was overkill to say the least, and most phrases didn't even make sense. ("The colour of late night laughter" anyone?!).

The world building is basically nonexistent. We get vague snippets of a world, but never a comprehensive picture of where exactly Scarlett is and where she's lived for her whole life. There's the flowery descriptions - overflowing with every imaginative adjective known to man - but most of it never gives a clear idea of where the characters are. I was hungry for setting, for grounding, but it never happened.

It is a clever story, and one bubbling with potential. It's dreamy, definitely has an atmosphere of whimsy and magic, and is fresh and spellbinding. Yes, the purple prose was hugely annoying and unnecessary, but the surface at least glittered with dreams and mystery. And I loved the mystery. The constant lies and twists are brilliant and kept me guessing; it was unpredictable (to an extent). Towards the end, the story also picks up with some insane twists and pounding action, and almost manages to redeem everything that has gone before it.
However, I also felt slightly cheated at the end. I didn't feel like the dramatic revelations had been properly hinted at and foreshadowed throughout the rest of the book, and I did feel a bit robbed. The mystery is great, but the way everything comes together is a bit...well, unfair?!

“Every person has the power to change their fate if they are brave enough to fight for what they desire more than anything.”

The characters are a real love-hate thing for me. For more than half of the story, I thought they were shallow, flat, and passive. Tella is the only one I marginally liked, but her page time is minimal. Scarlett is incredibly passive, and Julian fits the stereotypical, protective, hot hero look with writing that seems to be trying desperately to create sexy "swoon-ness".
Scarlett is too passive a character. For most of the novel, the plot happens to her, instead of the other way around. The incidents and twists feel random and coincidental; she basically does nothing to further the story, it just pushes her along where the author needs her to go.
However, it did drastically improve from about Part 4 on-wards (the book is divided into Parts). Scarlett then becomes much more active - although never fully drives the story - but oh it took so long for that to happen. Her character has some nice qualities and she redeems herself a bit towards the end, but I generally found her rather dim and very shallow.
And yes, she did grow and was a slightly different person by the end of the book. But it still took too long for her flatness to wear off (and I'll still call her flat character, even though she grew a bit).

I wasn't a big fan of the romance. I did enjoy some of Julian and Scarlett's exchanges and banter, but what infuriates me is how focused Scarlett was on Julian. Her worry for her sister frequently fades into the background, giving the romance a focus I didn't think it needed. This is a book about sisterly devotion, but I thought the romance between Julian and Scarlett pushed that to the sidelines. Not to mention how Scarlett is constantly thinking and debating about Julian and what he's up to, and noticing time and time again how muscled and gorgeous he is. I literally cringed every time there was a mention of his "rows of brown muscle". I'm sorry, I just can't stand that. And Scarlett's lusting felt unrealistic and frustrating considering she'd come to save her sister.

Caraval is dreamy and whimsical, but the shallow characters, terribly pathetic world building and purple prose make it hardly worth the magical atmosphere. The action and characters did improve as the novel progressed, but it just fell short of redeeming the entire book. 


  1. I had such fun buddy-reading, Amy! I agree with this review 100%. The final twist did shock me, and I thought it was fresh and unique. But it wasn't enough to completely redeem the other flaws the story had. Great review!

    1. Yay! It was awesome :)
      I agree, and it's definitely unfortunate :(

  2. Aw I'm sorry you didn't like this book, but I'm glad you had fun buddy reading and discussing it :) I hope your next read will be a better one :) Lovely review!

    Brittany @ Brittany's Book Rambles

    1. Thanks Brittany, I was too :(
      Thanks! <3

  3. A middle of the road book is all the more disappointing when it was one you truly wanted to love. *sigh* I'm not a fan of 3rd person POV either and find that I never connect with a story as well when it's told that way. Between that, the lack of world building, and the lukewarm feelings about the romance... meh. Sorry this wasn't the hit you wanted it to be.

    1. True :( Yeah agreed, and those aspects were very disappointing.
      Thanks Tanya :)

  4. Sorry you didn't love it. I recently read it and I was really looking forward to it too. I really thoroughly enjoyed it although I can agree with a few points. It left a bit to be desired and wasn't totally what I had in mind. Scarlet's focus on Julian frustrated me too! For me the story was supposed to be about sisters and adding Julian into the mix took away from that a bit. I'm not mad at the romance but I'm mad that it took away from something that I think should've been the main focus.

    1. Thanks Brooklyn, me too :(
      I'm glad you loved it though! But yes, Julian definitely took something away from the sisterly theme :(
      Totally agree.
      Thanks for stopping by! <3

  5. OMG.....POP!! My bubble just burst.... I recently bought this book, and was SO EXCITED to begin reading it..... But your review has now made me wonder if I shouldn't just try to get rid of it, instead. SSSSSSSS! Now that's the sound of a deflating balloon. Lol.

    Seriously, though, everything you've mentioned in your OUTSTANDING review has made me totally CRINGE. Shallow characters? Nearly ZERO world-building? PURPLE PROSE?! OMG, OMG, OMG!!!! Those phrases you quoted, with the annoyingly illogical metaphors....well, I feel just like you do!!

    Well, thanks for the heads up, Amy!! If I do decide to read this novel, I will now be aware of all its shortcomings. And I might not finish the book. Thanks for such a thorough, detailed review!! KUDOS TO YOU!!! <3 <3 <3 :) :) :)

    1. Ah Maria I totally know how you feel, and I'm sorry!! I was SO EXCITED and ready to love this book, and was literally heartbroken when I didn't :( So sorry your excitement has deflated! I know exactly how you feel!

      Aww thank you! And yes, those things were AWFUL! Urgh! So frustrating!

      Thank you for such a sweet comment!! <3 <3 HUGS! Glad I helped, but sorry you're disappointed!! I was too :( :):

  6. P.S. I didn't mention it in my previous comment, and I should have: the fact that Scarlett's romance with Julian eclipsed her concern for her sister is also a MAJOR turn-off. A guy comes first, before your flesh-and-blood relative?! Heck, NO. Unless the relative is a MAJOR DOUCHE. Then, that's a totally different story. Lol.

    1. I KNOW RIGHT?! That's so annoying!
      Haha true ;) Lol.

  7. Sad to hear this book was disappointing - writing and characters are such big things for me. Because of all the hype I would still be curious to read this, but I think I'm going to move this down the list. Great, honest Review!

  8. It's always especially heartbreaking when a novel you are so ready to love turns out to just be one not for you. :/ I am glad you could appreciate the atmosphere it created - the dreamlike quality. And I am glad the actual mystery was good. But it sounds like the ending folded, and when you couldn't appreciate the exposition and the general style well... it sounds like you couldn't love it as much as you wanted to :(

    1. It is :(
      Thanks, I was glad too.
      Yeah true :(
      Thanks for stopping by!