The story: Scarlett and her sister, Tella, live with their abusive father on a tiny island, and Scarlett’s father has arranged an imminent marriage for her. The girls receive invitations in the post to Caraval, a far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show. With the help of a mysterious sailor, the sisters end up at Caraval, where Tella is immediately kidnapped as part of the game. Scarlett must find her sister before the show ends, and although she’s been warned in advance that nothing that happens in Caraval is real, the lines between reality and the game soon blur.
My thoughts: It’s been a while since I read a book with so much hype surrounding it – literally everywhere on the internet there are glowing reviews. Because everyone else seemed to love this book, I was expecting great things – which made it even more disappointing that I really disliked this book! I know lots of people will disagree with me, so I’ve tried to break down my reasoning below. There are some spoilers (sorry) and unpopular opinions below – so please don’t read ahead if you don’t want to know things that happen!
- The main character: Scarlett seems to have the personality of a goldfish. She keeps repeating that she needs to find her sister so that she can get back home and marry a man that she’s never met. She fails to work out the clues left for her and just seems to stumble across the right answers by accident. She spends a lot of time saying how much she doesn’t like Julian, but then swoons over him every chance she gets and falls in love with him within a week.
The bond between the two sisters is talked about a lot, but we see very little evidence that they really care for each other. Tella comes across as impulsive and selfish, and Scarlett only seems to want to find her so she can drag her back home to her abusive father – even though Tella has repeatedly said how much she wants to escape.
- The plot: There are lots of things that just didn’t make sense and weren’t explained, even after the big reveal. I’ll pick just one as an example. There are supposed to be many people playing the same game with the same set of clues. These clues are not that hard to follow – but Scarlett, who wastes loads of time bumbling around doing stupid things, is still the only one to work them out. I felt there was too much focus on Scarlett and her story and not enough on world building.
- The supporting characters: All of the characters in this book are flat and one-dimensional and their motives are never explained. The count for example has zero character development, closely followed by the girls’ father. Also almost everyone we meet is described in terms of how physically attractive they are, which I really wasn’t keen on.
- The language: I understand that Caraval is supposed to be magical and mysterious, but the flowery language used throughout the book got really repetitive, and sometimes felt like random pretty words had just been picked out of thin air and strung together. For example – “He tasted like midnight and wind, and shades of rich brown and light blue.” What does midnight taste like? What do shades of light blue taste like? I have no idea.
I think I’m maybe just far too old for this book. I also feel quite strongly that it shouldn’t be billed as being similar to other books like The Night Circus, which I really enjoyed. Unfortunately the thing I liked most about this book has to be the cover – which really is beautiful.
I appreciate that others will have different opinions on this and I’m glad that so many people enjoyed it – these are just my personal feelings!