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It’s been a while since I did a review in which I shared my thoughts while reading something. Since Caraval by Stephanie Garber is divided into parts, I thought this would be a fun way to read the book. I’ve heard good things about it, but not much about the plot. So, I’m going in blind. All I know is that there is magic and a caraval (a game of sorts) involved, which is next to nothing. If you want to avoid spoilers, I’ll include a table of contents at the beginning so you can skip to the end where I give my final thoughts.
Table of Contents, so you can skip to parts you are curious about:
A legendary competition.
A mesmerizing romance.
An unbreakable bond
between two sisters.
Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.
But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.
Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.
Welcome, welcome to Caraval . . . beware of getting swept too far away.
- Published: May 1, 2018
- Page Count: 448 pages
- Genre: YA Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
Thoughts During: The Isle of Trisda
The book starts out by giving us an introduction to our main characters: Scarlett, Donatella (Tella), and Julian. Scarlett and Tella have an abusive and controlling father, who is in charge of the Isle of Trisda. Every year for the last seven years, Scarlett has been writing to Legend who runs the Caraval in hopes that he would come to visit their island. She sends one final letter saying that she’s getting married and is happy the troupe won’t be coming this year because of it. As she sees marriage as her way to escape her father, even though it’s arranged and she’s never met the man. Nor does she know his name.
Legend ends up finally responding to Scarlett and gifts her three tickets. Two have the sisters’ names while the other is blank. It’s meant for her fiance. They have to leave Trisda and be at the caraval in three days’ time, which is almost impossible for the girls as their father would never allow it. He’s drowned someone who tried to help them with that feat before and threatened to do the same to Tella if they tried again.
Tella is excited over the possibility when Scarlett tells her about the ticket, as she had been trying to schmooze a sailor named Julian so she could get him to smuggle her off the island. Their father catches them and beats Tella as punishment for her kissing Julian, though he believed it was Scarlett who had done so. This sets into motion the girls leaving as Julian offers them passage on his ship and a way to the caraval… which he just so happens to know the location of, which is Legend’s private island.
Yeah, immediately I went ‘ok if the dude never performs in the same place twice, how do you know where the guy’s private island is?’ But that was only my first flag regarding Julian. Later, he also knows that Scarlett has been writing to Legend for seven years, which I highly doubt Tella would’ve told him. Then he knew too much about the private island itself (like not trusting certain things), Scarlett’s borrowed dress changed as soon as he looked at her (though I guess that could just be the magic of the island), and the girl at the front gate seemed to know him or was trying not to ask him something. So, my guess is Julian is Legend.
I jumped ahead not that it mattered. Anyways, the sisters are on the island thanks to Julian but separated. I’m guessing they aren’t going to be reunited anytime soon. I haven’t read the summary so if it’s mentioned in that then I didn’t know at the time of reading. I’m also guessing that while Julian may have kissed Tella first he’s going to end up with Scarlett. She was always more curious about the magic and Legend than her sister was. When they were kids, Tella highlighted the fact that Legend was a villain, and in one of Scarlett’s letters to Legend mentioned that he killed someone. So, I’m guessing their views of Legend as a kid are going to play into how their story arc plays out.
Alright, quick summary of my predictions after this part:
- Julian is Legend.
- Scarlett and Julian are going to get together romantically.
- Tella and Scarlett will not be reunited, as that may be part of the game.
Thoughts During: The Night of Caraval Eve
This was a relatively short section. There were several things that happened:
- Julian says why he wants to be at the caraval. Sort of. He has played before and has reasons for wanting to go through the games. But he won’t state what those are as they ‘would only spoil her good time.’
- They must be in their hotel by daybreak or they will be locked out, and kicked out of the game. Time works differently on this private island. They got to the estate at midnight and were maybe there an hour, then they took a boat ride to the hotel, and sometime during all that it was daybreak as they reached the door of the hotel. So, six or seven hours happened in what seemed like a short period of time. Most of it was while they were on the boat. Scarlett also made it inside while Julian didn’t, but she managed to convince the Inn Keeper to let Julian inside after stating she’s a special guest of Legend and keeping up the lie that she’s engaged to Julian. I’m pretty sure he would’ve been fine had he been left outside, but he wouldn’t be considered a player in the game anymore.
- Everyone is given clues in their rooms. Scarlett’s is her sister’s name along with her room key. But when she goes to the room, she hears her sister having sex or doing something with another man.
- Scarlett and Julian were also given the same room, but she ends up sleeping elsewhere rather than sharing a bed with him. Through this, we are introduced to Dante and Valentina (siblings), who are also in the games. As Dante gives Scarlett his room, so she can get some rest. Also, the gown magically changed into a corset nightgown. So, you know… still thinking Julian is Legend. Or he’s related to the games somehow other than being a past player.
I don’t have any new predictions at this point. Though I have a feeling Scarlett’s clue about Tella was not so much ‘hey your sister is fine’ and more like ‘hey this is your objective, find her before it’s too late.’ But we’ll see what happens as time continues.
Thoughts During: Night One of Caraval
Turns out Tella’s disappearance is the mystery everyone must solve. If Scarlett had gone into the room right away, she may have found that out sooner or won immediately. But since she didn’t, she has to find the clues to find her sister and Legend.
The clues are:
- The first note from Legend.
- Something within the rubble of her departure.
- Must be earned.
- Will cost them something valuable.
- Requires a leap of faith.
The other guests descend on the room and clear the place of everything Tella had brought to the island including Scarlett’s things. But they left behind a picture, which happened to be the actual clue since it didn’t belong to Tella. It was of a palace at the caraval.
Julian and Scarlett head there, and we get confirmation that time moves differently on the island. Depending on the place that could be more or less. So, they need to be careful when exploring.
Scarlett ends up getting her fate told, while Julian goes off to hunt for clues. However, she uses her two questions to inquire about the count (her true fiance) rather than her sister. She is told to follow the man with a black heart to the next clue after revealing her fear. She also confesses her fear of her father in order to obtain a protection potion before discovering a tunnel while following Julian. Or rather someone she thought was Julian.
As time is running out, she decides to return to the Inn. Julian reappears with a head injury and Scarlett’s earrings, long after the doors have been locked. I don’t think he would have gotten hurt if he was Legend. But he definitely has something going on with the caraval to get around some rules.
- Julian works for the caraval. I don’t think he’s Legend anymore, but he does know Legend.
- Her father is going to show up thanks to her revealing that fear (or a look-alike), and something during the exchange will be the answer to the fourth clue.
- Scarlett and Julian are going to get together romantically.
Thoughts During: Night Two of Caraval
Night two is relatively short. Scarlett, on the other hand, is successful in both following the third and fourth clues. The previous night, she had gotten the third clue: follow the man with the black heart. Who was revealed to be Dante. This led her to a man selling cider who robbed her of her ability to see color. There were, however, two objects in color. One of them is a man with an eyepatch. Secondly, Aiko’s journal. She eventually decides to pursue the journal, but in order to do so, she needs first buy two dresses. However, because her answer was false, she is unable to acquire the second dress using questions. Her ultimate goal was not to find her sister. Because of this, she is required to pay with two days of her life, which will be taken as soon as the sun rises.
Dante finds her and helps her in returning to the Inn, where he informs her that Valentina has gone missing. But we don’t find out much more about this since Julian finds her. He takes her to their room and then sacrifices one of his days for her, so she only loses one day. That means they’ll both miss the third night of the caraval.
Scarlett is shown what happened at the caraval in the past after she ‘dies.’ Dante had won one, but his fiancé had left him for Legend. But Legend turned her down, causing her to jump from a window and die. So, he’s back in the game, hoping to bring her back to life. Also, she learns that her grandmother was the woman that Legend had once been in love with. Julian is also seen wearing a velvet hat identical to the one Legend is wearing in this dream. Again, I don’t believe he is Legend. I doubt Legend would give up his days to assist one of the players. However, after the last section, I was thinking Julian was close to Legend. So, maybe his brother?
Thoughts During: Day Four of Caraval
Scarlett is certain Julian is Legend the next morning. He, on the other hand, insists he is not. He claims to be Dante’s late fiancée Rosa’s brother. And that he wanted to make sure that what happened to his sister never happened again. I don’t totally believe that, but I do agree that he isn’t Legend.
Scarlett’s father also comes to the island. The two manage to escape him using the island’s tunnel system. Julian admits that Legend vowed every daughter on Scarlett’s grandmother’s side would never marry happily. It would always result in misery or madness. So, her father may have concealed the count’s name to spare Scarlett from such a destiny. And that he found out about the marriage through family connections. Again, I believe that. But, once again, I believe he is related to Legend rather than Rosa. But he doesn’t think Scarlett would trust him if he said that, so he told her a story that was close to the truth.
Rosa’s death, I believe, had an impact on him. He was sick of playing his brother’s games because they were causing others to be hurt. It wasn’t all a fantasy. What happened during the games had actual implications, and he was done with them. So, when he learned what was going to happen to Tella and Scarlett, he decided to return one final time. And see if he can set things right by assisting whichever sister was not abducted by Legend.
Scarlett is given the second dress, which is not the one she chose. It comes with more glass buttons, which she’s been finding all around the caraval, as well as a top hat-themed card. She believes this is the last hint. They must travel to the hat shop in order to locate Tella.
- Julian is Legend’s brother. I don’t believe he’s related to Rosa, but I do think her death affected him.
- Scarlett’s father will find them and someone is going to get seriously hurt in the process.
- Scarlett and Julian are going to get together romantically. I’m holding out for it, they’ve had many near moments at this point that I don’t think she’ll end up with the count.
Thoughts During: Night Four of Caraval
That night they end up going to the hattery, and despite two people warning Scarlett away from the place, she goes in anyways. Instead of finding Legend or her sister, she finds Count Nicholas d’Arcy, her real fiancee (also known as the eyepatch man she saw earlier). Her father arrives almost immediately after. And she realizes the buttons and note hadn’t been a clue from Legend, but rather from the count.
Julian and Scarlett share several kisses during this part. And she realizes she no longer wants to marry the count. She’d rather be with Julian even if he has never been honest with her.
The real final clue had been the red roses that were left for her. As they also appeared when she lost the ability to see colors. However, as they try to use the tunnels to get back to the Inn as the sun starts to rise, the Count and Scarlett’s father catches up with them. Her father slices Julian’s face as punishment for Scarlett attempting to run away. To avoid him getting any more injured/tortured, Scarlett agrees to sleep with the count provided that they let Julian go.
When she gets to her room with the count, she uses perfume that prevents someone from harming them on the count. Then escapes with Julian who had been hiding in the wardrobe. But as they escape, she fails to look at the roses. Instead, she decides to check the balconies where Rosa died. As a leap of faith might literally mean repeating history. But in the daylight, they aren’t able to find the balconies, but they are able to find the carousel she saw with roses. There she finds Legend’s symbol which opens a portal. But when she goes to jump in, Julian does not follow after her.
At the bottom, she finds Legend. And it’s revealed that Julian works for Legend along with Valentina and Dante. Julian also confirms, what I already guessed, that Rosa was not his sister. When Legend finds out that Julian gave Scarlett a pocketwatch as a way to escape with Tella after confronting Legend, Legend kills Julian.
Thoughts During: Night Five The Last Night of Caraval
Scarlett leaves the tunnels to immediately find Tella at the top of the stairs. The last message from Legend changes from “Tella’s funeral” to “a party reserved for performers.” Tella also doesn’t believe that father actually came to the island and everything Scarlett has been through the last week was “a bit of madness.”
Tella also tells Scarlett that she’s engaged to a man named Daniel DeEngl, who she had been with the night of her abduction. Only Daniel turns out to be Legend, and he is having a sick enjoyment of seeing Tella turn against Scarlett. As Tella believes Scarlett has been swept away in the games rather than telling the truth, she helps Legend tie up Scarlett right before their father and the count arrive. Then reveals that Tella should’ve listened to Scarlett. This along with the appearance of her father is enough to have Tella jump off the balcony.
Following Tella’s death, it’s revealed Scarlett’s father killed Dante. And Scarlett decides never to let her father have control over her. She’ll share all his dirty little secrets now that there’s no one he can hold over her head. So, her father and the count leave.
But Legend refuses to grant Scarlett a wish, even though technically she won.
Thoughts During: The Day After Caraval
Scarlett returns to Tella’s room where she learns her sister has been corresponding with Legend for the last year in an attempt to save her sister and her. She framed it to Legend as she could help him play the role of hero for once instead of a villain. She also knows Scarlett would wish her back to life, which she had tried. It isn’t until after learning that someone plays the role of Legend during the actual games, that Tella reappears alive again. As Scarlett had in fact wished her sister back to life, which wouldn’t have worked unless Scarlett had passed the tests. A good portion of them she failed. Unsurprisingly.
We also learn from Tella that Legend never swore revenge on all females of her line. Though they did have a relationship at one point. And that Julian is alive; he had only been taken out of the game by Legend at Tella’s request that no player makes Scarlett fall in love with them. And since he had, Legend took him out. Dante is also alive as any performer who dies during the game return to life when it ends. Julian was also only supposed to go as far as the hat shop with Scarlett as part of his role, he was never supposed to stay longer than that.
They attend the performers’ party where Scarlett reconciles with Julian, and Tella receives a note from a friend stating that they will be collecting their payment for what they shared with Tella. I’m guessing it’s from Legend but the writing doesn’t match up with his previous letters. So, I’m not entirely sure who’s from.
Revisiting my predictions (what was I right about):
- Julian works for Legend = true. He was a performer until Rosa died and only rejoined when Legend wanted to redeem himself.
- Scarlett and Julian get together romantically = true. They kiss several times during the games and afterward.
- Their father shows up = true. I’d go into more detail but I already did in the last sections.
- Julian is not Rosa’s brother = true. Rosa had been a participant who did die during the games. But Julian had never met her.
- Someone gets seriously hurt because of Scarlett’s father = true. Dante is killed and Julian is cut from his chin to eye.
- Julian is the brother of Legend = true. Scarlett learns this during the after-party.
Did all these things happen in the way I thought they would? No. Which is why I enjoyed it so much. I had a different idea in my mind about how these events would play out. So, while I was right, I was also wrong. I thought Scarlett’s father was going to straight up kill Julian. That didn’t happen, though Julian still gets killed by his brother. Which I did call. A performer wouldn’t be that close to Legend to know everything Julian did, though they would know some of it. But I also didn’t think that was going to be revealed in the last chapter. I thought it would’ve been found out earlier.
Overall Thoughts (Spoiler Free)
While I thought some parts were predictable, there was still an element of mystery. And the fact that time, people, and places were not as they seemed only piled onto that feeling. In a way, it reminded me of Alice in Wonderland, but instead of the Queen of Hearts being in charge, it’s the Mad Hatter. The writing style leads towards that nonsensical vibe, which is not everyone’s cup of tea.
There were also times when I wanted to shake Scarlett as she’s hung up over little details instead of focusing on the game. I get she was kind of forced into the situation, but if she truly wanted to find her sister, she wouldn’t let everyone else playing the game run her over. A good portion of the time she’s hung up on the detail “what is this going to cost me” rather than what the reward is. Even after being told that she has to be a little merciless in order to win the game. Or she’s focused on Dante or Julian, rather than the fact her sister is missing.
I get Scarlett has been sheltered and lived under an abusive father. So, she’s not going to trust anyone. But they were told upon entering:
What happens beyond this gate may frighten or excite you, but don’t let any of it trick you. We will try to convince you it’s real, but all of it is a performance. A world built of make-believe.
And a good portion of the time, she believes the performances to be real. It doesn’t help that a majority of things that happen are purely magic. So, at times, it felt more like a tool that was used to explain away things rather than a fully fleshed-out aspect of the world. But I have a feeling it’s going to get expanded upon as the series goes on, so I’m not writing it off yet. Plus, as I mentioned, it kind of plays into the Wonderland-type feel the story has going for it.
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this story. I don’t think I’ll do the other two books in this style as in a way it takes me way longer to read, but I thought it was fun to do this style at least for the first book in the series.
Overall, I would give it 3.75 stars out of 5. I would’ve rated it higher, but as I mentioned the number of times I wanted to shake the main character paired with how the magic system isn’t fully defined dropped the point value for me.
I’m also curious about where the next books are going to go. I have a feeling this is going to rate up there with one of my favorite series. I know I rated The Folk of the Air series by Holly Black lower, but I have read that many times. Same with Zodiac Academy. So, don’t take my 3.75-star rating as it’s not a great book. I just think some areas of it could use improvement.
I doubt the count is done with Scarlett nor her father. Not to mention, Tella has to pay back someone for all the information they shared with Tella. Whether that be Legend or someone else.
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