Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.
But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.
Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.
For the first two-thirds of this book, I was ready to come here and say “it was okayish to good.” Even though this was in my top ten anticipated books for the year… I found myself skim-reading some pages, getting bored with “but she’s my sister”, “I need to find my sister”, “I need to do what is right for my sister” and other iterations of Scarlett trying to do what’s best for Tella, when Tella clearly didn’t want the help.
Then the rest of the book happened, where the action picked up, and totally redeemed the whole book.
It was not a perfect book, but it was ultimately amazing. In the beginning, all the characters that I loved were not the main characters. The two sisters were so wooden. But at the same time, I did like them a lot, it just felt like the story was happening to them (which was very true for one of them). When it started to shift to be character driven, there were setbacks… but that was part of the game.
And the game of Caraval… gah. This concept was just so interesting. And though at first it felt like being absorbed into a fictional Cirque du Soleil show, it was so much more. The setting was well imagined, lush, beautiful, eerie, enchanting and strangely dreamlike. I loved the sense of time, and how that changed from one area to the next. I loved the descriptions of all of the streets and the ‘tricky’ bridges, the lanterns, the inns. And of course because I am a bit of a night owl, I adored that the game was played between sunset and sunrise under the stars, so that everyone had to be tucked away behind the locked doors of their inns during the day.
Side note: How perfect would this be for someone like Miyazaki to transform it into a fantastic animated film? (The lanterns reminded me of the spirit bath house and town in Spirited Away, plus the sleeping schedule was the same… up all night, sleep all day.)
It’s definitely a book I would recommend. It has adventure, deception, magic, romance and intrigue–all of the things that I enjoy. The second half of the book was much better than the first half, and the last hundred or so pages were soooo worth every page.
The first half was obviously necessary in building towards everything, but I think I had it too hyped up in my head and wanted to drive forward as fast as possible. So maybe my suggestion would be to take a deep breath and soak it all in. Don’t try to rush like I did.
Overall, my main issues were answered by the end, and it is a book that I will be re-reading soon. The end was incredibly satisfying, though it was immediately followed by an epilogue that raised new questions for the next book. The first half of the book is about a 3 for me (on the first read though anyway), but the last half was a 5. If you are struggling with it a bit, just keep going!