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Friday Book Review: Caraval

By Robert Drinkwater

Never choose a book by its cover is a common phrase, admittedly, I did exactly that when I picked out Caraval by Stephanie Garber. I thought that the cover looked interesting and it showed a tinge of mysticism. Caraval is a story about Scarlett Dragna, a girl who is about to be married off to a man that she does not know in hopes of having her and her sister escape from the clutches of her abusive father. However plans soon change when she and her sister Donatella, also known as Tella get tickets to Caraval. Caraval is an annual event that you need to receive tickets to in order to go in the first place. This is a five day event, hosted by the mysterious Legend, whom very few have ever met.  Every year there is some sort of a scavenger hunt. As it turns out, the scavenger hunt is to find Tella, and whoever finds her will receive one wish. Unfortunately  Scarlett is pressed for time and she must find her before her wedding or face her fathers wrath.

I found Caraval to be a novel filled with mystery and suspense. I thought that the imagery of this novel was one of its best parts. Everything was described as magical and every scene was clear and I felt as though I could visualize it. When Scarlett arrives on the island of Caraval, all of the magic came to life. Everything described seemed so colorful and flamboyant. It also had a unique setting, in which the event took place on an island and everything on that island closed before sunrise. A monetary form of currency doesn’t exist on the island instead many shops will ask for something like the thing you desire most, or the last lie you told someone.  

Mystery was an important theme for this novel as not much is known behind the magic of Caraval and the master of Caraval, Legend is very mysterious. Legend is someone who can perform magic tricks and change his appearance at will, but not much else is known about him. We also do not know why he kidnapped Tella, he just leaves a list of clues. We also do not know much about Scarlett’s companion Julian who is trying to help her find Tella, but does he have ulterior motives?

While the whole concept of this book is interesting and the many mysterious elements kept me intrigued, I found the world building element to be disappointing.  This novel takes place is a fantasy world, but we know very little about it. For instance Scarlett and Tella are from the Island of Trisda, but other than that, we don’t know anything about it. What’s its history? Is it part of a continent? If so what’s that continent like? We also don’t know much about where Julian comes from. He is described as being a foreigner with an accent, but other than that there is no indication about where he comes from. Granted, the vast majority of this book takes place on Caraval, but I felt like the world around them seemed to be lacking.

I also found the characters to be kind of bland. Scarlett wants to find her sister, but other than that she doesn’t have that much of a personality.  I did, however think that the other characters in the novel were interesting, like those who were involved in Caraval. I just wish that some of these characters, including Scarlett were more fleshed out and three dimensional.

Despite its flaws, I think that this is a good read for college students especially, since we often have to deal with a stressful amount of workload and finding some sort of escapism can help release some of that stress. Caraval is filled with magic and beautiful imagery. With this book, I felt like I could escape to another world and forget about my workload/student debt. I could suspend my disbelief as I read about the world of Caraval, filled with magic, illusions, peculiar oddities( such as dresses that change color due to ones mood, cider that makes you see what you need most, and a carousal made of roses, and much more).

Overall, I thought that this novel had an interesting concept, along with really vivid imagery, but the world building was a bit lackluster and the characters seemed kind of bland and uninteresting. This book is often compared to The Night Circus, but it kind of reminded me of Alice and Wonderland  because a girl gets thrown into this unknown world full of magic and mystery and everything is not as it seems.

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