Caraval by Stephanie Garber
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
*I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways*
I feel bad saying this because I was so grateful and excited about the opportunity I had to read this book early but I was mostly frustrated and disappointed with this book.
It started out strong enough, showing Scarlett and Tella at home and how they are both desperate to get away from their abusive father. The chance for escape arrives in the form of 3 tickets to Caraval where the winner has the chance to receive one wish. From there, the plot continues to the point where the sisters end up at Caraval and circumstances change, leaving Scarlett trying to figure out the clues of the game to get her sister back.
First of all, for a book that claims to be about sisterhood, Scarlett and Tella spent most of the book apart from each other. The reader is told that they are devoted to each other but the interactions between them did little to illustrate that point before the plot forces them to be separated. I can mostly believe that Scarlett is devoted and loyal to her sister but I wouldn't go so far as to say that sisterhood is a key ingredient of this book. Perhaps if there had been flashbacks of interactions between them growing up to help build the idea of sisterhood, I could understand the sentiment better. Just because I'm told it's about sisterhood doesn't mean I will believe it. I need to see the proof in the writing over the course of the whole novel.
Next up, the writing. There was a lot of repetition in the writing, a very frustrating narrator who couldn't make up her mind, and a lot of colors to describe feelings. That last part I can forgive, as I'm sure it was meant to expand the magic of the world in this book, but the meaning behind the colors was lost on me. Stating that a color if for a certain sentiment doesn't work as well as showing how that really enhances the moment for the character. If a book has colors attached to feelings, I would think that they would mean something, offer insight, give the character hints on how to analyze the world around them. If there was a purpose to Scarlett's colorful feelings, it didn't translate enough in the book. Perhaps there will be more development with that once the final copy of the book is out.
The repetition made for a lot of boring back and forth with Scarlett and her workings to find Tella. She was constantly repeating how she could only stay at Caraval for a few days, that way she could make it back to her home in time to get married to a man she'd never met before. It was repeated, over and over, about how she needed to find Tella, get them both back home and then get married so that she could save them from their abusive father. After a while I wanted to shake Scarlett because honestly, given the circumstances and the fact that her sister was kidnapped, I think she needed to move on from that faster than she did and concentrate mainly on finding her sister. Everything else could be dealt with after she'd managed to do that. Add to that the defeatist attitude that Scarlett had at every turn, where other characters actually point out that Scarlett is being dramatic and even whining about things she doesn't have while experiencing a magical world, and I'm left feeling that Scarlett needed more of a push to get her to act on her own desires and defeat her enemies. I wanted more from a lead than a girl whose every move was decided by whether or not the outcome included her sister never forgiving her. Reading that several times over the course of the book made her sister seem like a brat and Scarlett seem like she was a pushover, especially whenever Scarlett started feeling guilty because she started wanting other things along with saving her sister. Almost every thought in Scarlett's mind was to save her sister, and yet there were instances in which it was suggested that maybe Scarlett didn't love Tella enough to which I say, maybe the problem was she loved her sister too much to begin with when all is said and done.
Finally, the narrator that can't seem to keep her mind straight. At one point near the start of Caraval, Scarlett thought to herself how she sometimes believed that Tella didn't care as much for Scarlett as Scarlett did for Tella. When this was revealed I thought, okay, this is good, some hidden reveals about this relationship, some development, let's see where this goes. But then maybe a chapter or two later, Scarlett thinks the same thing only to stop herself and claim the game is making her think those thoughts about Tella. I can forgive that, maybe it's all set-up for a bigger development later on, but then Scarlett does this again when she interacted with another character. Said character tells Scarlett some clues to help her find Tella. Scarlett believes said character the first time, then questions that character's motives the second time they meet, then claims she trusts what said character has told her when it comes up a third time. Is this just a case of an unreliable narrator? Or is it just a case of changing a character's motives so that the plot keeps hitting the points it needs to get through? So many outside factors influenced Scarlett's thoughts at the drop of a hat that it came across as Scarlett being unable to think for herself. She was too quick to assume the worst, she was quick to change her mind several times over the course of a few pages, and it all didn't add up to enough interest in her as a character.
The world building was intriguing. The background story to Legend and his performers seems like it would be a very interesting tale. When it all comes down to it though, this book was only barely okay for me. I wanted to be dazzled, to feel the magic of the world and the suspense at time running out for Scarlett to solve the game but it all fizzled out for me. It took me too long to read this book and I'm heartbroken to admit that. I do want to try reading other books by Garber in the future though because I'm an optimist and because even though this book didn't work for me now, maybe there will be one I will love in the years to come.
Rating: 2.5 Stars
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