Review: Caraval – Stephanie Garber

caravalRemember, it’s only a game…

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.

Rating: 2/5

Black sheep alert! I say, BLACK SHEEP ALERT. I was so looking forward to this one, but I have to say it’s my biggest disappointment of the year so far.

At first, I thought it was because it’s YA and I’m not the target audience – it did feel really juvenile, which is obviously not the book’s fault, but mine. But then I saw almost every other adult reader of the book raving about it – so that couldn’t be the reason!

The biggest issue for me was the writing. The overly descriptive, purpliest-prose that I have ever read. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for description – but every single object encountered by our protagonist is described. Every. Single. Object.

And described in excrutiatingly flowery detail, but using incredibly simplistic imagery. See the following examples:

“The isle on the horizon looked nothing like her familiar Trisda. Where Trisda was black sand, rocky coves, and sickly looking shrubs, this bit of earth was lush and alive. Glittering mist swirled around vibrant green mountains – all covered in trees – that rose toward the sky as if they were massive emeralds. From the top of the largest peak an iridescent blue waterfall streamed down like melted peacock feathers, disappearing into the ring of sunrise-tinted clouds that pirouetted around the surreal isle.”

“Lush red carpet cushioned her steps, while soft golden lights licked her arms with gentle kisses of warmth. Heat was everywhere, when a blink ago the world had been covered in cold. It tasted like light, bubbly on her tongue and sugary as it went down, making everything from the ends of her toes to the tips of her fingers tingle.”

Now imagine this but for 400 pages. (You don’t want to know how many times ‘emerald’ or ‘silver’ are used to describe something. If I took a shot every time I read a jewel-toned adjective…it would probably have made it a more enjoyable reading experience, to be honest.)

And the figures of speech were also clumsy and cringeworthy. They didn’t even make sense.

“She remembered her first impression of him, tall, roughly handsome, and dangerous, like poison dressed up in an attractive bottle.” 

“And to her horror, rather than feeling distaste, a tingle of periwinkle curiosity prickled her senses.”

Now all of this, of course, would have been slightly redeemed if we’d found out early on that the heroine Scarlett has synesthesia. But the author leaves it until past halfway to enlighten us. So I was left trying to grapple with these bizarre colour combinations and smells and the rest of it.

But let’s have more awful examples of the writing.

This is how the love interest’s eyes are described: “Light brown, the colour of caramel and liquid amber list.”

“She pictured two hungry pools of liquid amber fringed by dark lashes.”

Excuse me while I roll my eyes…sorry, I meant pools of liquid.

“Around her, the people on the street were as thick as a murder of crows.”

and

“Her skirt and blouse were silver this time, with eyes and lips painted to match. Like a teardrop the moon had cried.”

Huh?

But let’s get onto the other things I didn’t like, since I appear to be on a roll!

In terms of the plot, everything is just far too damn convenient. Oh, Scarlett needs to find a clue? Oh look, there it is, conveniently waiting for her. Repeat times 5.

Scarlett as a character is also incredibly slow on the uptake – it’s not great form if the reader keeps guessing before the character figures things out. Her naiviety and prudishness can be excused as product of her upbringing, but she gives absolutely no sense of agency to her sister, who is only younger than her by a year. While it’s admirable that she loves her sister and tries to save her constantly, Tella is not some helpless baby.

Also, some delightful slut-shaming:

“…she was not going to let Julian make eyes at some tart in a bar…”

And the romance didn’t do it for me. There’s a lot of pressing together through layers of flimsy dresses, oh my, and plenty of mentions of Scarlett’s curves. While Scarlett has waxed lyrical about Julian’s eyes (see above quotes), his mouth is also a point of descriptive butchering – sly, sinful, immoral. How a quirk of a mouth can be immoral is beyond me.

To be fair, CLEARLY THIS ENTIRE BOOK WAS BEYOND ME.

Free copy received from Jonathan Ball Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

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6 thoughts on “Review: Caraval – Stephanie Garber

  1. I found the descriptions to be beautiful but somehow unable to paint the picture I wanted to have painted in my head. I could barely imagine this island or this game and it was so unclear and difficult to picture very sadly! Thanks for the review though!

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  2. Aww…I’m sorry this one didn’t live up to the hype for you. 😦 I can definitely see where you’re coming from though – such a dense writing style would have frustrated me as well. Nonetheless, thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! ❤

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    1. Thanks for the lovely comment! I really did set out to like this one, but within the first couple of pages it was fairly evident that the book wouldn’t be for me. It was a review copy though, so I would have felt bad if I’d DNF’d it!

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