Warning: might contain very minor spoilers
“Caraval” is a young adult fantasy novel about two sisters who live on a remote island with a tyrannous father. Scarlett, the elder sister, is willing to do anything to save both herself and her younger sister Donatella, including accepting the arranged marriage. She has a dream, though, of seeing a mysterious performance, Caraval, and one day she gets the invitation from the master Legend himself. When Scarlett is brought to the island to partake in the game, almost against her will, she is faced with the fact that Donatella is missing, and now Scarlett has to win the game to save her sister.
I was very excited to get my hands on Caraval, but since I had never heard about this author (and only later found out that it is a debut novel), I got it from the library. Unfortunately, I failed to read the book and had to return it. So, when I found out that Caraval was narrated by Rebecca Soler, I immediately went to Audible and got my copy of this audiobook.
I finished the book surprisingly quickly. I felt, however, very much let down by it. Very similar to my experience with “Heartless” by Marissa Meyer (but only worse in this case), the book left me feeling as the author had poured all efforts into creating visually appealing world and characters, but the plot was crafted from cliches and tropes. It was getting so ridiculously predictable at times, that I could even guess the lines in dialogues. Because I have already read all of those before, in multiple books.
Caraval, which is positioned as a fantasy novel, is surprisingly romance heavy. It has too many elements of romantic settings and all of those descriptions of ‘smooth, muscled backs’ and ‘chiseled features’ only made me roll my eyes repeatedly. It would have been okay if this book was meant to be a romance novel. In a fantasy setting, it seemed just a bit too much of sugar at inappropriate places.
The world of Caraval is crafted well enough, however, the ideas behind it are not new. A deadly game to save the loved one? We have all read a book or two about that. Falling for a bad boy? Yup. Dying but not actually dying? Err, what?
I had a big problem with the plot, which had more holes than a plot is allowed to have, but the biggest issue for me was with the ending. The dead should stay the dead unless their death wasn’t such a big deal. Because if it is, if it is supposed to be a hoax, do not let either readers or characters believe in it for so long. And especially, if it all turns out to be a trick - do not treat it so lightly. I personally found annoyed and cheated at the end.
I liked Scarlett fair enough, although I didn’t always agree with her actions. I liked Dante, probably, the best from all secondary characters. I liked both his and Julian’s backstories, however, everyone else verged at the edge of annoying. Especially, Tella. I am ready to say that she was the most annoying and least enjoyable character for me.
There is so much hype surrounding this book, which I don’t understand at all. The plot is weak, the romance is predictable, the characters are cliched. The idea was great, but it should have been executed and wrapped up in one book. But we, it seems, are getting a sequel.
Rebecca Soler does a good job with this book. I had some trouble distancing myself from my experience of “Heartless” at the very beginning, but overall I think “Caravel” characters sound more believable and alive. I am not sure if it was due to the fact that I started listening to “Caravel” right after “Heartless” or perhaps because both books are narrated by Rebecca, but I kept thinking that these two novels have a lot in common in the way certain things are romanticized and exaggerated. Of course, these two books are different, but I kept wondering if Stephanie Garber was somehow inspired by Marissa Meyer’s writing.
At the end of the audiobook, there was an interview with Stephanie Garber. Listening to her talk only solidified my opinion that this author is just not for me. Since we are getting the sequel that will focus on Tella, I am still on the fence with whether I would like to continue with duology (and I hope it is only going to be a duology), but I might give it a go if I have time and if I get it as an audiobook (preferably, from OverDrive). Because I am not spending a penny on the book that could have been so good, but turned out to be a hoax.
Plot: 2 stars
Performance: 4 stars
Overall rating: 3 stars