Stephanie Garber's Caraval was one of those books that I felt like was all over Goodreads and everyone was reading it, except me. Honestly, for the most part, a book being plastered all over Goodreads usually does not have much influence on me, as I have encountered both good and bad books that way, not to mention countless mediocre ones. But because it is YA, and because the synopsis did grab my attention, I decided to pick it up, knowing that I was potentially getting myself caught up in a brand new series that may go in a direction I won't care much for.
The Situation: Seventeen year-old Scarlett Dragna lives on the Conquered Isle of Trisda with her father and her younger sister Donatella, or Tella. Ever since she was a little girl, Scarlett dreamed of being invited to Caraval, a game filled with magic and wonder, where you can either observe, or decide to become a player, and being too swept away in the events is a real possibility. Year after year she has written letters to Legend, Caraval's mastermind organizer, only to never receive an invitation, or any indication that the games will come to Trisda. Now Scarlett is 17 and engaged to be married, believing that her chance to attend Caraval has passed. That is until she finally receives a letter from Legend inviting her, her sister, and her fiance to the games. Despite the invitation, Scarlett still believes her chance has passed. With her wedding only days away, Scarlett does not want to miss what she believes to be her only opportunity to escape life with her cruel father. But Tella refuses to let her sister settle for unhappiness as a trade-off for safety, so she hatches a plan that will get them to the games, and maybe even win.
The Problem: It is hard enough for Scarlett to think of what her father, the Governor of Trisda, will do to either her or her sister once he realizes they have escaped. If he finds them, the punishment will likely be more severe than anything he has ever inflicted upon them. Of course, Scarlett is also worried about missing her wedding; her one chance of truly escaping life with her father. And then there is Julian, the mysterious stranger whom Tella has enlisted to help in her plot. Handsome, charming, and completely untrustworthy, Julian is instrumental in helping Tella put her plan in place. When Tella disappears once they reach Caraval, Julian is the only person Scarlett can lean on as she tries to track down her sister and leave Caraval in order to make it back home in time for her wedding. Unfortunately, Legend seems to have a plan of his own, as he kidnaps Tella and makes her and Scarlett a part of the game. And if Scarlett does not win, she may lose her sister forever.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fantasy novel set in a fictional world. Scarlett and Tella reside on the Conquered Isle of Trisda with their cruel father, the Governor. Later, they will travel to Caraval, a place that Scarlett had always dreamed of being invited to, though when she finally is, the timing could not be worse. Throughout the sisters' entire time at Caraval, the line between what is real and what is only part of the game is continually blurred, almost to the point where Scarlett is nearly driven to despair. There is no one she can fully trust, and when she does it almost always proves to be a mistake. No one and nothing are as they seem, and while there are rules to the game, no one plays fair, and everyone is only out for themselves.While Scarlett has to constantly decide who she can trust, and what she can believe to be real, she also must decide how much power she gives other people over her actions and her feelings. Her father had always manipulated both daughters as a way to control them, and the people of Caraval are proving to be no different. Ultimately, Scarlett must be stronger and smarter than ever before, while understanding that things may not be as they seem.
My Verdict: I have mixed feelings about this one. For the most part, the story is interesting, complex, and with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing as to what is really going on. The reader ends up just as confused and lost as Scarlett, especially when it comes to who to trust and who to avoid. But sometimes - often actually - there are just a few too many twists and turns, and the mysterious characters are almost too many to count. Plus, for Caraval to be such a supposedly magical place, all that I could imagine it to be was an amusement park that was geared more towards adults rather than children and families. Also, there has to be a healthy amount of suspension of disbelief applied in order for the story to come through completely, but I suppose that can be attributed to the more fantastic elements of the story. And as far as protagonists go, Scarlett has to be one of the most naive and annoying ones that I have come across in a long time. Sure, her situation is crazy and confusing, but there is only so much I can take of someone constantly being surprised when people do not turn out to be who they say they are.
Favorite Moment: Honestly, I am not sure. Possibly whenever Julian proves to be more trustworthy than initially believed.
Favorite Character: Except for Scarlett, no one is as they seem, or as they present themselves, including Tella. But Scarlett annoyed me too much for me to pick her. So instead I choose Julian. He is both helpful and deceptive, but ultimately more helpful.
Recommended Reading: Despite having an ending I take issue with, I choose The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.