Caraval by Stephanie Garber - I don't get the hype

Title: Caraval
Series: Caraval #1
Author: Stephanie Garber
Publication: January 1st 2017, Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 405, paperback
Source: Library
Rating: 2/5 cupcakes

Remember, it’s only a game…
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.
Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.

THIS BOOK MAKES ME WANT TO CRY FROM DISAPPOINTMENT. I thought I would love Caraval. I was promised sisterly love! Magic! Romance! Absolutely amazingness (I know that's not a word, but humour me)! I was expecting it to be magical, filled with suspense, enchantment, a spellbinding romance and characters I could root for. That was not the case. This book was flat. It was badly-written. The characters were devoid of any personality. It was problematic. This book’s only saving grace was the world-building and the premise. If it wasn’t for that, I would’ve DNFed it a longtime ago. And I nearly did, but I persevered because it was my book club’s book of the month and I wanted to have enough material to critically review it, so there’s that.


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Except I actually am.

Caraval is about sisters Scarlett and Tella who live in Trisda with their cruel, power-hungry father. For the past seven years, Scarlett has been writing to Legend, the leader of the most magical, adventurous week-long game, in hopes that he’ll come to her town and give her and Tella a chance to win the coveted price: a wish. And this year, she gets a reply. With tickets to Caraval she joins the game, but lies, deception and danger are at every turn. The lines are blurred between what’s real and what’s part of the game. Scarlett will have to try her hardest to solve the mystery and win the prize - and not lose her sanity or life in the process.

The premise was amazing and that, as well as the world-building, were the only two things that kept me interested enough to keep reading. Before I get into the negatives of this book (and there are a lot of them), I’ll mention the positives. The premise and plot made this book. For the first 100 pages I was bored, but once Scarlett arrived in Caraval, things got interesting. There was deception, trickery, suspense and danger. There was magic, there was intrigue and the stakes were high. Like Scarlett, I began to question what was real and what was not. It was dizzying and intriguing and I really liked guessing along with Scarlett.

I also liked the world-building and setting. Well, I use the term world-building loosely. The world-building outside of Caraval wasn’t explained. There was a map in this book, so I thought I’d a get a more in-depth detailing of the world that Scarlett occupied. Nopers. I loved reading about Caraval though. The imagery was vivid, vibrant and magical. The setting was like a technicolour version of Wonderland. It was twisted and strange and magically mad. The plot and the setting were stunning and fascinating. Those were the only two things I liked.

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Sadly, an accurate representation of me with a list of all the things I didn't like.

If you've been reading this blog for awhile (or even not for awhile; I mention this frequently), you'll know I need fleshed out characters. There can be a plot where literally NOTHING happens, but if the characters are 3D and complex, I'll probably still love it! In real life, I love connecting with people and forming in-depth relationships, so I guess that's why I feel like I need to be able to connect to characters?

What were the problems with the characters? 

They were as interesting as a blank sheet of paper. They had absolutely no depth to them and no personality. All the characters had one single thing that defined them and exhibited no other traits except for that one thing. Like the only thing I knew about Scarlett was that she wanted a better life for her sister. Tella wanted to get away. Julian...well, I can't mention that because it would be spoilery. Their father was just an abusive jerk who had no other qualities or characteristics, making him a boring one-dimensional villain. The only thing that I knew about them was one thing, be it desire or an action they'd frequently do.

Scarlett was whiny, weak and boring. I just couldn't connect to her. Not only that, she was naive and such a hypocrite. This is actually her. Like basically word-for-word what she says to Tella:

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When she, herself, was about to get married to the Count as part of an arranged marriage thing. She didn't even try to get out of the arranged marriage. At least Tella tried other options, instead of signing herself over to that. Like, what?!

Julian had potential, but again, he didn't have much personality that made him feel fleshed out. 

Tella barely got any page time, so I can't say much about her character.

There were a couple of side characters, but again, their personalities and traits weren't exhibited or explored in the slightest. 

Another thing I had a qualm with is how narrow the viewpoint of the world was. Caraval was written in third person. Third person gives the author the liberty to reveal to the reader other characters and other settings that can add depth and suspense to a story. Caraval was a game played by a lot of different people. There was virtually no mention of the other players. Surely there would've been adversity between Scarlett and the other players? Or perhaps Scarlett would've always won, based on the revelations throughout the book, but I don't know. The lack of characters and the narrow focus on such a few characters who had virtually no personality, made this book seem quite dry and deficient.

Another thing I had a problem with were the relationships in this book. *angry sighing*

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I was promised a book about sisterly love, yet I just didn't see it. We were told Scarlett would do anything for Tella. We were told how much she loved her. But there were moments that made me think...really? Really?

FOR AN INSTANCE. Julian - the love interest - first met Scarlett when he was busy making out with Tella. He wasn't really (not a spoiler, but it's revealed later in the book), but I don't care. Scarlett fell in love with Julian and started getting sexy with him when she didn't know that their kissing was fake. She basically lusted after and I think kissed him WHEN SHE STILL THOUGHT HIM AND HER SISTER WERE HAVING A THING. I mean, that's just so disrespectful and why would you do that?!

Another thing is, there's a part in the book where Scarlett gets to ask three questions or something. She wastes the other two and when she does actually intentionally ask questions, she asks about her future husband instead of her sister?? DUDE. YOU HAVEN'T EVEN MET YOUR FUTURE HUSBAND BUT YOU ASK ABOUT HIM INSTEAD OF YOUR SISTER WHO COULD BE IN MORTAL DANGER?! 

This is spoilery so I'm going to put it in white and you can highlight if you want to read it. It's not super spoilery but it mentions a minor plot detail, so read with caution, I guess. *spoiler starts* SO another thing, there's a part where Scarlett has to choose between saving Julian (WHO SHE HASN'T EVEN KNOWN A WEEK AND WHO IS CLEARLY NOT WHO HE SAYS HE IS) or her sister who she loves more than anything...and she actually has to think about it. Like, she genuinely contemplates it??? *spoiler ends* 

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Then there was the relationship between Scarlett and her father. Her father who, as a character, made no sense. Okay so, their father physically abuses them. If the one girl does something wrong, the other sister gets punished. He's awful, but apparently he only became awful after their mother left. How did he become so physically abusive and cruel after their mother left, if he was never like that before? It just wasn't consistent and I'm confused.
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If you're a character in this book then yes, yes you can. 

My fellow book nerds, this book has my least-favourite trope: INSTA LOVE.

Scarlett starts thinking about Julian romantically almost as soon as she meets him. And can I just say, she starts thinking about him like ~that~ when she's almost drowned. He saves her and then while she's half-drowning, she's thinking about how he's touching her. Um okay. She falls in love with him in that week. A week. Not only that, but their entire relationship seems based on the physical and nothing else which would make sense because they literally have no character traits or anything ahem - pretty much all the scenes where Scarlett was "falling in love" with Julian was because he was hot and had abs. CAN YOU NOT.

Julian as a love interest...I'm not sold. I mean, there were some scenes that showed his genuine care for Scarlett, but he basically kidnapped her and she got the hots for him, like, immediately afterwards. Damn girl, you need to be a little bit more discerning when it comes to your men.
So purple. Purple everywhere. 

Let me just say, I like purple-prose. I've read a lot of books where the majority of reviewers complain about language being too flowery. The same books that I've loved the writing. I like lots of detail and metaphors and that kind of thing but this. It was so...random and didn't make sense JUST DIDN'T MAKE SENSE. The majority of these nonsensical sentences arose from the fact that Scarlett's emotions have colour to her. Yes, that sounds weird to me too. What's even weird is that it literally adds NOTHING TO THE STORY. Like, if it meant she was magical or could use it to help her in the book then sure, I'm game! But it literally did nothing for the story. It seemed to be used as device to make the writing seem magical and poetic. It just didn't work for me. 

"It smelled like the middle of the night"

“Something about him made her feel perilous shades of silky black.”

“He tasted like midnight and wind, and shades of rich brown and light blue. Colors that made her feel safe and guarded.”
Pray do tell, what does wind taste like, exactly? 

These random inclusions of sentences that were dressed up as poetic, in writing that was offensively simple was too sharp of a juxtaposition, in my opinion. 
This book was problematic. Maybe it will be addressed in the sequels; I hope so.

The first thing that didn't sit well with me is the child abuse perpetrated by Scarlett and Tella's father. There was no justice. He walked off completely free, and that didn't sit well with me. I can imagine that for readers who have experienced parental abuse, it could damage them to read about the injustice and lack of repercussions of the father's actions. It needed to be addressed. I'm hoping it will be in the second book.

Another thing I didn't like - this is spoilery but it's a trigger warning, so I'm going to say it anyway - was how suicide was used as a plot point and a shock factor. There was a graphic image of the suicide described in the book, and also, it was merely used as a plot device. If you read to the end of the book, you'll find out why. *spoiler starts*That whole thing was another reason that made me feel like the sisterly bond wasn't as filled with love and care as promised - I don't understand how Tella could put Scarlett through that, for the sake of making the game seem more real.*spoiler ends* I understand that it was used to raise the stakes and paint the game in a more deadly and sinister light but...I don't know. It just made me feel uncomfortable.

Caraval was disappointing, problematic and devoid of any depth. I was convinced I would find within the pages a magic-spun story, incredible sister dynamics and a sizzling romance. I did not find this. Instead I was met with dull characters, a lackluster romance and writing that was overtly trying to be magical and poetic but came across as nonsensical. Caraval's saving grace was the vivid setting and the plot. There were moments of suspense and shock and danger which compelled me to keep reading, despite the many flaws I found in it. Most people love this though, so don't let me put you off. Just don't go into it with super-high expectations like I did.

I give it: 2/5 cupcakes