Caraval by Stephanie Garber: My Review
Rating: 2/5 stars
Every person has the power to change their fate if they are brave enough to fight for what they desire more than anything.
Caraval is probably my biggest disappointment of 2018 so far. With all the hype surrounding its release and the promise of similarities to The Night Circus, I was expecting great things - a dark whimsical circus-like setting, ambitious romantic characters, opulent prose - but unfortunately none of this was delivered and I'm not even going to waste my time picking up the sequel.
I think a good word to describe how this "high fantasy" felt for me is juvenile, because nothing about the story was really defined. Most noticeably, the magic system was painfully underdeveloped and confusing; there was no explanations as to how or why these characters were able to use magic to overcome problems, or any limitations present, and although for me this isn't usually the biggest factor in a fantasy novel it definitely irked me a lot. On top of that, Garber creates a world of which so many conflicting descriptions are given. There are all these colonizing empires and different islands but the reader has no idea what's actually going on and how it all connects because, again, nothing is fully explained.
Then you have the fact that Caraval is supposed to be this big 'elaborate performance' or scavenger-hunt style game, but it just wasn't that at all. Mostly because Scarlett just seems to very conveniently stumble into ALL of the clues so there was absolutely no suspense to the game or any stakes whatsoever. Alongside this, the author clearly strives to introduce some emotional depth to her book through the two deaths that happen, but they literally aren't even real deaths?! (hard one to explain, if you've read it you get it) - they were honestly just anticlimactic and annoying, which I suppose are two adjectives that could extend to describe the entire book overall.
And now we come to the part I hated most: none another than the main character, Scarlett Dragna. I don't know about you, but the moment I sense that I'm beginning to take a strong dislike within the first 50 pages or so to a protagonist who is painfully boring yet whose head we are so unfortunately stuck in for the rest of the book, I immediately start to tense up and hear alarm bells in my head and my heart sort of flops a little because that's it, there is just no hope. And that's why Caraval was doomed from the start for me. No matter what it is that I'm reading, I absolutely need at least one character who I love and I want to root for in order to get any enjoyment from it, and in this book it should have been Scarlett... BUT I COULD NOT STAND HER. By far the most insipid character in the book (and that really is saying something) (why am I so ruthless), Scarlett tries to act the part of the protective older sister, but then becomes so preoccupied with how hot and shirtless Julian is that she forgets Donatella even exists, let alone may be in grave peril somewhere in a dark place. She was just so unbearably weak, constantly questioning her own stupid reasoning or mainly just allowing others to make decisions for her and then panicking over whether she can trust them and I wanted to scream in her face on multiple occasions. Oh, and can we just talk about the "romance" between her and Julian? Could someone kindly point out to me a sound reason why they actually got together apart from the fact they were pretty much the only people available to eachother? No substance, no chemistry, NOTHING.
Tella, Julian and Legend were almost equally as bland but mostly just very confusing characters for me. I feel like descriptions of them kept being contradicted, their motives throughout were extremely unclear and after the awfully abrupt and unsatisfying ending, I had no idea who any of them actually were. The supposed "villain", Scarlett and Tella's father, was horrendously ruthless and violent for absolutely no reason, other than his wife leaving him (boo hoo), and therefore none of slotted together or really made any sense. It was a mess.
Ending on a bit of a happier note so I don't seem thoroughly heartless, I'm giving Caraval 2 stars because I did enjoy the figurative nature of the writing for a while (before she started seeing her emotions in colours and the whole thing become a block of the same repeated sentences) and the plot did manage to keep me entertained enough to not DNF the book, which is something I guess. But overall, as unpopular as this opinion seems, I was so disappointed by Caraval and by no means do I think it is worthy of all the hype. I hardly think I'm voluntarily going to invest my precious money into Legendary just to be put through the same disappointment again.