Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Opening sentence: “It took seven years to get the letter right.”
This is a book I heard about due to Bookstagram (Instagram accounts dedicated purely to books.) For a while, it was the only book popping up on my feed, I seemed to be the only person in the book-world not reading it! So, I decided to see what all the hype was about.
This book mixes a fantasy world – the islands of Trisda and Caraval – with magic, adventure, romance and a twisting plot line. So far, so good. The story centres around sisters Scarlett and Donatella Dragna, who have a less than perfect life: an abusive father, a mother that ran away, Scarlett’s engagement to a man (a Count, no less) she has never met, so they are desperate to escape and take part in Caraval. An invite-only annual game that takes place on the aforementioned island, hosted by the mysterious magician Legend. The game sees players follow a chain of clues around the island, in order to win the coveted prize of a wish.
When they arrive on the island, Donatella is kidnapped by Legend and all the players, including Scarlett, have to find her to win the wish. While attempting to do this, Scarlett is repeatedly reminded that, “It’s only a game…” as reality and the magical world of Caraval start to twist together. Characters are frequently not who you think they are, or who they say they are.
Although this was an engrossing little read, I felt it zipped along at such a pace that more detail about the characters thought process would have been beneficial. There were many times I was left feeling frustrated as the characters’ actions just didn’t make any sense. A prime example is that we are reminded on near enough every other page that Scarlett is desperate to save her sister, but when she has the opportunity to question a fortune teller, she asks about her upcoming marriage rather than the more obvious, ‘Where is my sister?’ question. Also, Scarlett’s clue solving is a little wishy-washy, half the time she seems to pick the answers out of the air, or make decisions to find the next clue based on not very much.
I didn’t realise this book was the first of a duo, so although the story thread came to a conclusion, some parts of the plot were left unanswered and the ending was open to set up the next book, which is something I don’t enjoy. For me, there are just much better young adult books out there – if you’re looking for magic, then I don’t think I need to tell you which series you should go for, and in terms of exquisite young adult writing, reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness would be a much better way to spend your time.