Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her 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 faraway, 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. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 3.95 out of 5
Scarlett’s feelings came in colours even brighter than usual. The urgent red of burning coals. The eager green of new grass buds. The frenzied yellow of a flapping bird’s feathers.
He’d finally written back.
You know what? I’m posting this on a Saturday evening and I’ve been drinking wine. I tell you this so that you can forgive my review. Actually, don’t. The review would still be the same without the wine.
I like Marmite.
Bear with me. I swear this is going somewhere.
Actually, I love Marmite. For some people Marmite is the spread of the devil. It’s gloopy, sticky, black and is incredibly salty. For those who don’t know what Marmite is – go here and have the thrill of a lifetime. I’ll wait.
Marmite has a whole marketing campaign based on whether you ‘love it or hate it.’ It’s a whole thing. If you’re British and reading this you’ve probably had an actual conversation with an actual human being about Marmite and your preferences.
So why exactly am I talking about a spreadable?
From my excessive research into ‘Caraval’ (aka the fifteen minutes I spent on Goodreads), I gather that this book is Marmite. Those that love it, really love it and the overall Goodreads score is quite high (3.95 if you missed it above). There is a fair mix of those that feel ‘meh’ and then there are those that hated it with the fury of a hundred thousand suns.
So, where do I stand?
Can’t you just stand the tension?!
God I hated it.
I’m bitterly disappointed that I hated it because I had heard all the hype and was desperate to get my grubby hands on a copy. My lovely partner purchased one for me as a Christmas present and I unwrapped it with an incredibly girly squeal. I moved it to the top of my TBR pile (such a privilege) and I sped through my then current read getting increasingly more excited.
‘Caraval’ is everything that I love.
YA? Check. Magic? Check. Mystery? Check. Risk and intrigue? Romance? Sisterly relationships? Check, check, check. Something that also made me quite excited were the comparisons to ‘The Night Circus’ and as I loved ‘The Night Circus’ I thought this might be similar in theme albeit in a YA style. Here are the covers side by side: –
Unfortunately, ‘Caraval’ is no ‘The Night Circus.’ ‘The Night Circus’ is a gorgeous book and ‘Caraval’ is its half baked, poor relation.
Now my mother taught me that if I can’t say anything nice than I shouldn’t say anything at all. So here I will say something nice.
Did I like anything about it? Yes, I did. Two things: –
- The main character Scarlett has synaesthesia – which she experiences as emotions displaying as colours (I am desperate to read more books where synaesthesia occurs as I think this is fascinating)
- The setting – was quite lovely in parts with the nod to the venetian style of the city to carousals and the crumbling castle ruins in the middle of nowhere to the fancy dress shops where payment is taken for clothing via weighing up your hearts truths
The problem is that even those two simple things were ultimately handled poorly which just made me even more disappointed with the book.
Now I know that my mother said ‘if you can’t say anything nice’ etc. but frankly I’m going to put aside that advice and as I’m a couple of wines into my evening and I felt like I wasted some of my life on this book I’m probably not going to be so nice.
While reading ‘Caraval’ all I could think of was that I’ve not felt so let down by something since they cancelled Firefly after one season.
We follow main character Scarlett as she tries to solve the mystery and riddles of a circus-esque festival called Caraval. Scarlett has the unique ability to experience synaesthesia but also has the unique ability to have no personality whatsoever other than indulging in self-pity and complaining. She apparently loves her sister, who is in immediate danger from the game (she’s been kidnapped by the games founder/ owner? whatever), but Scarlett has a tendency to forget about that pressing matter because of A Boy.
Instead of actually marvelling at the wonders of Caraval (something Scarlett has always wanted to attend) she is instead marvelling at the chest of Julian, her insta-love interest who refers to her constantly as “Crimson” like the insensitive, uncaring douche nugget that he is.
In one scene Scarlett is cleaning blood from a wound Julian has sustained. He has just been attacked and is not feeling so good and instead she frets over seeing his naked chest. Seriously? How is that appropriate?
In another scene Scarlett has fallen into water and the weight of her ridiculously adorned dress pulls her into the sea. She is drowning, actual threat of life stuff and yet when Julian dives in to drag her to the surface, she frets about how improper it is for him to see her in a wet dress. Seriously? Seriously?!!! I never thought I would say ‘what the actual fudge’ in a review but then again, I never thought I would finish ‘Caraval’ so here we are.
The villains are pantomime villains with no depth or true motivation behind their action other than reasons that are completely superficial and I half expected them to start twirling their moustache’s. Scarlett’s sister Tella may be the only character with some potential but we don’t see enough of her to know if this is true. Mind you, the times where we do see her she is completely and utterly unlikeable and at no point did I ever get the sense of a true sister bond, no matter how much they spoke about it. This is where we need to start applying that writing rule of ‘show don’t tell.’
Instead of plot we had far too many pages dedicated to the descriptions of the magical dress that Scarlett wears – don’t get me wrong – this is a delicious idea in principle. A magic dress that somehow changes to accommodate the emotions of the wearer (pale pink ribbons slowly turning black as Scarlett becomes more despondent) or adjusts to the situation (locked outside her room at night she suddenly discovers that the pretty but conservative dress has changed to a silky negligée) is a cheeky and pleasant show of magic. But dear lord, I don’t want pages and pages of description of the darn thing every single time it changes. It’s just overkill of something inconsequential and ultimately adds nothing to the actual plot.
Which finally brings me to the writing. While Scarlett was drowning and fretting about showing an ankle or some such nonsense I was drowning in purple prose.
Considering as the author is a creative writing teacher it is really sad to say but Caraval has bad writing. The two actual things I liked – Scarlett’s synaesthesia and the setting – couldn’t be left to breathe because there was too much descriptive overkill on everything. I was going to give some examples but the book is currently on the floor beside me and frankly, I can’t be bothered to pick it up right now.
We also get excessive metaphors and similes for everything. I know in my own writing that I can write these to death. I’m learning to kill my darlings and my darlings are my love for metaphors and similes. There is no such luck here. This sentence made me want to roll my eyes. Scratch that, it did make me roll my eyes – “the interrogation felt foul, like a bathtub filled with dirty water.” It’s not the worst example but it’s one that I noted down at the time. It wouldn’t be a problem but Caraval is filled with these. Nothing is written without a simile popping up where it shouldn’t. Simply saying “the interrogation felt foul” would have packed a bit more of a punch.
This was meant to be a standalone but now there is a sequel simply based on the success of this book and apparently movie rights for Caraval have been picked up by 20th Century Fox. No please movie producers, don’t make movie adaptations of actual good books but pick up this instead.
I’m bitterly disappointed and clearly, I’m bitter. Ugh, where’s that Marmite, I need some tea and toast. And more wine. One can never have enough wine.