Scarlett has dreamt about attending Caraval ever since her grandmother told her magical stories from the last time Caraval was in town. But now that Scarlett’s arranged marriage is looming, she’s given up on that dream and only wants to make it to her wedding day so that she can get herself and her younger sister, Donatella, away from their abusive father. Unexpectedly, a letter arrives from Caraval’s orchestrater, Legend himself, inviting Scarlett, Tella, and Scarlett’s fiancé to attend this year’s Caraval performance. Scarlett has already put Caraval behind her, but Tella won’t take no for an answer. They soon find themselves on Legend’s private island with a sailor, Julian, who neither knows much about as they finally enter the world of Caraval. It’s only a game, but what happens when everything starts to feel too real?
My new dream in life is to attend Caraval. I would literally trade 1,000 Hogwarts acceptance letters to attend one week of Caraval. This place sounds amazing. There’s a scavenger type hunt and lots of intrigue and yummy sounding foods. You pay for things with secrets, desires, and truths and you’re only allowed out at night. Talk about atmospheric! I thought the author did a pretty good job describing the scene, but if we’re going to compare it to The Night Circus (which everybody has been) then more definitely could have been done to create the atmosphere and build the world. All of the places that Scarlett goes are pretty well described, but they don’t always make sense in the grand scheme of things. Because of that, it makes elements of the plot feel a little too coincidental throughout the book. While I could visualize specific shops, I had a hard time imagining what Caraval must look like as a whole (even with the map in the front cover).
The plot itself was pretty good. There’s a clear goal, but the journey would get a little fuzzy at times. The clues didn’t always make the most sense to me. I know they were supposed to be kind of obscure, but it didn’t feel clear enough how things were supposed to connect with each other. Again, this made elements of the plot feel super coincidental instead of calculated as I think they were intended to be. Without getting into any spoilers, I felt that the ending was a bit of a let down with how the rest of the plot had been built up. There were too many convenient things that happened which, I felt, cheapened the rest of the story. It was just kind of like, “Oh, this plot point is explained by this thing that was happening but nobody knew about, but trust me it was happening. Boom, plot point solved.” I would have appreciated some loose ends or at least less closure.
The characters were just okay for me. I thought some of the secondary characters were pretty great like Jovan and Aiko, but the main characters themselves weren’t much more developed than the secondary characters. Everybody seemed to be pretty one note with one motivation and one motivation only. Scarlett just wanted to get her sister and go home–she didn’t want to let herself enjoy Caraval at all and for someone who’d been looking forward to it, I didn’t find it genuine that Scarlett didn’t loosen up at all. Tella was just kind of selfish the whole time. There was a small glimpse of her love for Scarlett at the beginning of the book, but those strong feelings never really surfaced in the rest of the book. Julian was just kind of a weird character. I didn’t feel very connected to him and I didn’t feel that the relationship between him and Scarlett was super believable or well-developed. All of a sudden, it was just happening. Honestly, I was rooting for Dante, but Scarlett probably doesn’t deserve him. Legend was kind of a strange character as well. He spends so much time off-screen, so to speak, that I’m not really sure how I feel about him.
Overall, this review kind of makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy the book, but I really did. There were so many things to love about it but I think my expectations were a tad too high. I love scavenger hunts and so I was a little disappointed with how that all worked out and atmospherically, this book can’t really compete with The Night Circus. With that being said, I would definitely recommend this book. You’ll find yourself lost in the world of Caraval and imagining which shops you’d visit first and which foods you’d taste. You’ll ponder whether you would be a player or a watcher (I’d probably play, but I wouldn’t be super competitive about it). I’ll be interested to see how the next book plays out (yeah, I didn’t know this was going to be a duology either).
Overall Rating: 4
Violence: Heavy. Quite a few scenes with the sisters and their physically abusive father.
Sexual Content: Moderate