WELCOME, WELCOME TO CARAVAL
I'm Brittany & this is spoiler-free review 😁
The video version of this review is available here: https://youtu.be/3n_Z2ke7MPs
If you read the book already, a spoiler chat is available here https://youtu.be/CztzYIVUD9M
Let's talk about the plot twists, magic, romance and Caraval, a young adult fantasy novel by Stephanie Garber. It is really popular. It is all book boxes. It was $27 at Barnes and Nobel and I was like forget that, so I bought an e-book. This review is spoiler-free
This book the first book in a planned series. It's the story of Scarlett Dragna, the daughter to a ruthless father who is Lord of the Conquered Isles. He's never let Scarlett or he younger sister Donatella ever leave the islands. He shelters them and he's physically abusive. The book starts off with a series of seven letters Scarlett has written to Legend, the master of Caraval, a fantastic traveling magical game that lasts 5 days every year. Scarlett keeps writing these letters every year around her younger sister's birthday because she knows her younger sister Donatella really wants to go, and Scarlett really, really loves her sister and tries to step in as a missing mother figure. A story of the bond between two sisters:
And she's kind of partnered with this guy who she arrives on the Caraval island with, and he seems to be helping her kind of, but she's very conflicted like, should I be trusting you???
Let's talk about the marketing campaign for this book. It was very circus themed. Caraval was in all the book box subscriptions and everyone's been posting their unboxing videos and there's visual themes of tents and elephants and the flying trapeeze. So I read Caraval, and I was like... where's the circus? Caraval is a magical scavenger hunt that takes place in something akin to an Epcot village, which is cool, but it's not a circus. There are no tents, no trapeeze artists, no-one's juggling, there are no animals, there's not even any cracker jack. Which is fine, but I think the marketing campaign for this book has been a rather egregious misdirect. So if you;'re going into this book really excited for a circus, you're going to be letdown. This didn't impact my rating for the book, but I thought I should mention it.
Caraval is very plot driven, something exciting was always happening that held my attention. It's very much a book where the only person you really trust is Scarlett, the main character. And you're completely occupied with trying to figure out who and what is bad news, what's going to be helpful in winning the game, and what's real and what isn't. There are several plot twists, and I found it all to be very entertaining. I actually think Caraval would make an incredible mini-series, and I really hope a network can make it happen. Caraval's island is really beautiful and I'd love to see it brought to life. Because the story is jammed with events, I don't think it would adapt particularly well to film. I think there's probably several hour-long episodes, maybe 5 or 6 natural breaks im the story that would adapt quite well to a first season of a mini-series.
The character development is fine, it's not a book that's really driven by the characters. The book is driven by the game of Caravel. It's not terribly deep character development, but I think at least for the main three characters that the story hinges on, it was good enough, and I thought it worked. I will mention, Scarlett starts out in a very weak position. She's abused by her father, and all her hopes hinge on getting a man to marry her so she can get away from her dad. Men dominate her and she's looking for a man to save her, and I don't mind reading about characters I don't like or who I think are weak, but I hold young a dult to a different standard, but I know young tweens and teens will be reading the book. And if a girl is young and still struggling with the process of forming her own identity and knowing who she is, I think this book would be a bad influence. There are too many young women who always have to ahve a boyfriend and kind of place their self-worth in that, and I think this book would reinforce negative patterns. I read about Scarlett's life and I'm like, wow, that's sad that that's how she's viewing marraige, but I'm concerned because it's for young women, they might not have grown enough to realize that.
So this book starts off strong with a map, which I love books with maps so that's fantastic. It's a map of Legend's island where he hosts Caraval, so it's not a terribly large map in terms of geography , but it's nice, I like it. The setting is done well, although the world building is not terribly extensive. Except for this area with islands, you don't have a good sense of what the world they live in is like or how it's setup. I was curious to learn and see more of their world, but it wasn't anything that got in the way of enjoying the story for me.
So overall I would have been willing to give this book 4 stars or maybe even 4 and a half, but the descriptions in this book are so terrible, and they jolted me out of the reading experience so frequently, that I dropped this book to a 3.5. The issue is that there's this weird thing going on with the main character where she sees different literal colors based on her emotions, which makes no sense.