Caraval: Mixed Feelings & Overhyped?

March 2, 2017     Michelle     Book Reviews, Magic

Caraval: Mixed Feelings & Overhyped?Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Series: Caraval #1
Published by Flatiron Books on January 31st 2017
Genres: Historical Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 407
Format: Audiobook
Series Rating:

Whatever you've heard about Caraval, it doesn't compare to the reality. It's more than just a game or a performance. It's the closest you'll ever find to magic in this world . . .

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

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.

I had a very mixed reaction to Caraval. It was a lovely book, I’ll agree. And overall I enjoyed it — I was definitely kept guessing, and Garber was super effective at really making me second-guess everything I thought I knew. But … Well … Parts of it just didn’t work all that well for me?

I expected more from the imagery department.

Okay, so this is something I normally don’t care all that much about. But when a book is hyped specifically because of the great imagery and the creative & vivid scenery, I kind of expected to be WOWed by the world and, well, by Caraval. But I wasn’t. I fully expected something as beautifully vivid as Night Circus,  and I didn’t quite get that.

Don’t get me wrong — the setup of Caraval is creative and unique and imaginative. But I didn’t feel like I was there, and that’s what I was looking for. The experience of Caraval, instead of just the mystery.

Some of the clues and questions seemed really random.

I like to feel like there’s meaning behind everything, and I struggled with that in this book. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why on earth anyone in Caraval would care about half of the questions / “secrets” they kept asking about. It just didn’t make any sense to me. In fairness, it all was done with a purpose in mind, but it didn’t feel like it until the very end of the book. I admit I enjoyed the “ooooohhhh, that’s why” moment when I finally figured it out. But until then it bothered me so much that I almost DNF’ed.

I really liked the love setup. And the idea of earning trust.

This was one of the most genuine love developments I think I’ve read in a long time — there was nothing ‘insta’ about it, and so much is in question about whether there’s even a real love interest for most of the book. I loved that. And I found myself routing for Scarlett and Julian to get together. And since so much is so … unclear? … Caraval actually ends up focusing an awful lot on trust and belief and choice and love. And I thought those themes played wonderfully together.

I actually didn’t like the surprise ending.

Okay, so everyone raves about how incredibly unexpected the ending is. I admit I was surprised too. But I actually didn’t like most of it. Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I just … well, I wanted something different to happen. As a reader I was thrilled. But … well, I’m a sadistic writer. I can’t say what bothered me about it without giving MAJOR spoilers, unfortunately.

The world didn’t feel broad to me. 

There were so many interesting things that could have been explored in this world, and I was kind of left wanting. So much took place within Caraval itself, but the buildup to get there could have been much more dynamic. Since the book starts with letters that are signed “Scarlett, from the conquered Isle of Trisda,” I was fully expecting to learn more about Trisda and its status as a “conquered isle.” Instead we got … well, we got Caraval.

And there’s a TON of history to Caraval that gets revealed throughout the book (which I loved), but I feel like there was an overwhelming focus on just one or two key points in Caraval’s history, and I wish more aspects had been explored. There’s reference to a progression of events, but then only one example that really gets revisited over and over. I just wanted more.

The character development was unbalanced.

I feel like Scarlett wanders at random, and has an epiphany partway through that she can be awesome. There wasn’t a lot of actual progression? And, other than randomly happening upon useful bits of information, I don’t feel like she actually did much, and it’s not until the very end that she actually grew a spine and realized she was worth something. She was so hung up on a naive notion of the world that it was a wonder that we were supposed to think she was clever.

Conversely, Julian was developed fairly well. And I liked his development, even though he was absence for large scenes at a time. And … there weren’t really any other characters worth talking about from a development perspective.

I do feel like some of the character back-stories were very weak. Just like with Caraval itself, the back-story for the characters hinged on vague notions with only one or two concrete examples. There was a lot of potential there, but I just didn’t feel a connection to any of their histories.

The audiobook.

Ok, so here is where I REALLY struggled. I LOVE Rebecca Soler. But she narrates The Lunar Chronicles. AND the main character is named Scarlett. AND there’s a random other character named Iko.

I lost my mind. Seriously, I did. I just … that was too much for me.

Soler did a phenomenal job narrating (as always), but I kept expecting a fancy French accent and snarky witicisms to come pouring out of Scarlett’s mouth and it just never happened.

Rating Report
Writing Style
  • I agree with most of this, but the book was unquestionably overhyped. People were acting like it was the NEXT BIG THING, like it was ground-breaking, like it was going to be on the level of Harry Potter or The Hunger Games or A Game of Thrones. But, seriously, it’s just a YA fantasy book. It’s *good* but not noticeably better or more original than a lot YA fantasy novels, in my opinion.

    Also, yes, the world building was lacking. I thought, based on the hype, that this was THE NEXT BIG THING because of the deep and original world building. Nope. This was nice but not *that* magical. It’s not The Night Circus. Personally, I thought the greatest focus was on the romance, and the setting seemed secondary to that.

    I also didn’t care much for some of the characters. I get what the author is going for, but I mostly saw her wanting me to believe that Scarlett is awesome, that she and her sister are super close, etc. I didn’t necessarily buy what she was selling.

    • Michelle

      That’s a very good way to put it, regarding the characters: it’s like we were being told one thing, but I didn’t buy into it. I think it’s fair to say that the focus was on the romance and not the worldbuilding, or even the plot (at times, though I’m less critical of that than the worldbuilding). This was definitely hyped as THE NEXT BIG THING, and it’s just not. It’s decent, but nowhere near mind-blowing enough to live up to the hype.

  • I haven’t read it yet but I feel that, like you, I’m going to have such big expectations due to all the hype!

    • Michelle

      I mean, the hype for this one is INSANE, am I right? SO MUCH buildup of expectation — it’s hard to live up to!

  • Eeep, like everyone I know has felt disappointed by the hype of this book! 😂 I did buy it though because THAT COVER THO but I’m going in cautious hehe. I haven’t read Night Circus, so hopefully I won’t be expecting it to live up to that at least.😜

    • Michelle

      It is an AWESOME cover, and I’ve thought about buying it even post-listening to it just so it can sit on my shelf and collect dust, lol. Willpower … I will have willpower. I will spend my money on books I am actually likely to do something more than just look at. Ha. Haha. Yeah …

  • Lisa Mandina

    It is hard with audiobooks when it is a narrator that you really equate with another book or character. Actually a lot of the problems you had make me more interested to read this. Just to see what you were saying! But your review is great, this is still on my TBR, although it’s been moving to a lower priority.

    • Michelle

      I definitely think it is worth reading! It was not as much of a favorite as I thought it would be, but the idea behind it was pretty interesting, and if you’re into mind games at all, it was a decent read. I just didn’t think it came close to living up to all the hype, you know?

  • Thank you so much for this detailed review 🙂 I have been hearing tons of things about this book, and it is very, very hyped, I think that’s part of the reason why I want to wait a bit before actually reading it, if I ever want to. I’ll get into this with more caution now for sure 🙂 Thank you so much 🙂

    • Michelle

      I do think it’s worth the read at some point, but I would DEFINITELY recommend letting the hype settle down and reading it with your OWN expectations going in.

  • Oh sadddd. I have been putting this off because of the hype monster, honestly. And now, I probably will continue to for a bit. I just… I had so much trouble believing that it (or ANY book, for that matter) is THAT good that everyone loves it. Sigh. I am sorry that it was a letdown for you. I will probably give it a go at some point but… I am not in a hurry, especially with lackluster world building- especially in this type of book! And if the characters are just so-so on top of it… Ugh. Thanks for the great review!

    • Michelle

      I do think it’s worth reading at some point, but definitely wait until the hype has settled enough that you can have your OWN expectations going in 🙂 I do think there’s potential for future books to do something interesting