This book has been on my radar for awhile, and at a glance, seemed like the perfect book for me. Mystery. Weird Wonderland-esque adventures. “Bad” boy love interest. A narrator made relatable by her uncertainty in approaching everything. Yet here I am, having finished the book with all of these things, and I didn’t like it that much.
Days ahead of her long awaited marriage to a man she’s never met, a hopeful respite from years of abuse under her father, Scarlett is whisked away (eh, kidnapped?) to Caraval by her sister and a shifty guy her sister was sleeping with. Scarlett dreamed all her life of attending Caraval, a mysterious, multi-day, audience participation event. Though Scarlett is determined to escape in time to get married, her cautious plans change when it turns out this year’s game involves the kidnapping of the sister who brought her to Caraval in the first place. It’s a race against time…
I’m okay with a cautious, timid main character. As a non-risk-taker myself, I find those personalities relatable. Scarlett, on the other hand, is downright distressing in her cautiousness. It makes sense, in that I can believe that she and her sister turned out the way they did because of the years of abuse they endured, but that understanding didn’t make Scarlett any less distressing.
The love interested is ‘meh.’ I like a bad boy love interest as much as the next person, but Julian is bland, and not that bad. It seemed clear from the get-go that he was digging what Scarlett was selling, and that everything he did in the book was for her. Except Scarlett was oblivious, so it made things annoying and confusing and ridiculous.
And the game, the titular Caraval? It. Was. Nonsense. I can’t go into how needlessly complicated everything is without dropping major spoilers, but really. The mystery of this book is not what made everything happen, or why everything was happening, but that someone thought the plan made sense, and go off without a hitch, in the first place.
As complicated as everything was, and even with the explanation info dump at the end, there were a few things I did like. There was a bit of a “man behind the curtain” reveal to the magic of Caraval, I enjoyed that more than I expected. I really want to know more about Legend. Minor spoiler, but I bet we’ve met him, even though the story wants us to think we haven’t. I’m also interested enough in Tella that a sequel narrated by her is of interest.
For the most part I found this book underwhelming, but deep within there were glimmers of things I liked. For that reason, in a few weeks (after reading a backlog of anticipated releases), I’ll pick up the sequel and decide once and for all if this series is something I want to stick with.