Did you get swept away by the magical atmosphere of Caraval? I know I did. I thought Caraval was a great debut! It felt like a mix of Wonderland and Willy Wonka, perhaps with a hint of The Westing Game (although – it’s been a long time since I read that last one). People have also likened Caraval to The Night Circus. But since I haven’t read The Night Circus, I can’t say how the two compare. I’m sure Caraval is still plenty original on its own.
So What Didn’t Work So Well?
I withheld half a star from my rating, because I did trip up over the writing in some places. There were moments where it felt as if the language was trying too hard to be flowery and elegant. But I do realize that the author may have been trying to make the writing complement the fantastical quality of the story. That said, if you really don’t like that type of writing-style, you may be bothered by it more than I was.
Another moment that didn’t have the best effect on me was the teeth-finger-blood-sucking thing. I found it slightly unsettling, because I don’t really think blood tastes good. It didn’t seem as romantic as I think it was intended to be.
Given the circumstances, I also wondered why a girl would wander into a secret tunnel without first looking for a potential weapon she could bring to protect herself?
Overall, the world-building was adequate for the Caraval game setting even though the Empire was not explained too well. But I hear Garber builds on the world more in Legendary.
What Worked Well?
A set of magical tickets sets the story in motion! The book has cool underground tunnels, magic shops, potions, tattooed fortune-tellers, mysterious clues, and a magic dress that changes with the wearer’s mood! There is also more sinister deception and magic – like the ability to take a day of someone’s life.
The plot was really quite intricate once I began to understand what the author was doing. For a lot of the book, I did question whether actions and seeming coincidences were given enough explanation, but many of my concerns were assuaged in the end. It was fun to follow Scarlett and Julian as they tried to figure out the clues. Scarlett also had great motivation: love for her sister was a driving force. (Although, I didn’t always get the sense that Tella cared as much about Scarlett as Scarlett cared about Tella. But I hear Tella gets more fleshed-out in the sequel.)
The romance definitely sizzled in this one! Caraval is pretty much centered around the romance, so readers who aren’t really romance fans may not enjoy the book as much. But I thought Scarlett and Julian were great together. Every moment between them was filled with tension. And whenever they got separated, I couldn’t stop thinking about when they would find each other again and wondering what other commonalities they might discover between them.
Despite the rough start with the writing style, it didn’t seem to bother me as much as I progressed further into the book. Either I just got used to it, or the author toned it down a bit. By the end, I was completely engrossed in the story! One line that I did enjoy was this:
“She remembered thinking falling for him would be like falling in love with darkness, but now she imagined he was more like a starry night: the constellations were always there, constant, magnificent guides against the ever-present black.”
To sum it all up, I’m excited to read Legendary, and I hope you are too!