Scarlett has been writing to Legend for years. She dreams of seeing Caraval after hearing stories about it from her grandmother. Scarlett doesn’t have a lot to dream about since she lives with her abusive father and is always protecting her impulsive sister Tella. Her father has arranged a marriage for Scarlett to a count on another island and Scarlett dreams of getting away and taking Tella with her. Then days before her wedding, to a man she has never met and doesn’t even know his name, Scarlett receives invitations to Caraval. Conveniently, Tella has just met a sailor named Julian who is willing to take the sisters to Legend’s island.
Caraval is nothing like Scarlett imagined. She is immediately separated from her sister and stuck with pretending Julian is her fiance. Then she learns that not only is she a special guest of Legend, her sister is part of this year’s game. In order to win the magical wish, the players must locate Tella before the end of the five night game. Scarlett pairs up with Julian and follows the clues given to her by Legend in the hopes that they will lead her to Tella. Of course, along the way she develops feelings for Julian and maybe a backbone of her own.
So world-building is one of the things I find essential when reading fantasy. If you are going to set your story on another world, you better develop that world. Garber barely creates a world and has no consistent rules for that world. Half of what she says is true in the world turns out to be lies and the other half is misty and undefined. She would have been better served setting this story in the real world and focused her attention on creating Caraval. Here is what I know about the world: there are islands, some are conquered, Scarlett lives on a conquered island and her dad is the governor. Legend has an island. There is magic on Legend’s island. Yep, that is about it. Really poor world-building.
Another thing I hate is bad character development. The characters are far from interesting or developed in this book. Scarlett claims to love her sister more than anything, yet spends most of the books swooning over Julian who she has known for literally 5 days! Tella seems to be the most flighty, self-centered creature imaginable but then at the end it turns out she did it all for her sister? Seriously! Then you have Legend who is one of the main characters of the story, but never seen and whose motivations seem to change with the wind. Scarlett’s dad is a villain with no clear motivations except being cruel to his daughters. Then we meet Scarlett’s fiance, who claims to want to protect her but is more than willing to rape her on her father’s orders. Gross!
I knew I wasn’t really into this book when it took me 5 days to read it and when I found myself skimming most of the chapters. It didn’t feel very original or interesting. I couldn’t sink into the story or the characters. Things kept popping up that made me question whether I wanted to really read this book or not. I also left it sit on a shelf for months before even picking it up! I can see why readers may enjoy this book. If they can look beyond the world that doesn’t make sense and the insta-love and the boring characters, they will find a nice, little romance with a bit of magic. For me the inconsistencies and the fact that by the end of the novel everything you thought was true turned out to be lies really turned me off.
I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley and the publishers.