Often, the problem with YA fantasy is that the romantic aspects of the books overshadow the world-building and background necessary to make the fantasy elements shine. This problem plagued Caraval. Instead of being a kickass novel similar to The Hunger Games, Caraval came off more as a romance novel with
occasional mentions of magic and more.
Caraval centers on Scarlett and Tella, two sisters who long to escape their ruthless and sadistic father. So intent is Scarlett on escaping that she agrees to the marriage her father has arrange for her. But alas, novels never end that simply! Enter Caraval, an annual game where magic and mystery intersect. Scarlett is whisked off by Tella and Julian, a mysterious sailor, to play in Caraval. But right away, Tella is kidnapped by Legend, the organizer of the game. Whoever finds Tella first will win the game, and Scarlett is determined to reunite with her sister. Heartbreak and horror and illusions abound in this novel.
Caraval has most of the pieces needed to be a successful novel: good enough prose (although it uses way too many flowery metaphors), an interesting premise, and interesting characters. In that sense, Caraval was a fine read, if you disregarded all desires for a thoroughly explained plot or non-cringey writing. I was engaged enough and cared enough about Scarlett to continue reading, but the novel was bogged down by incredibly cheesy prose. Some parts of Caraval read like sub par Harlequin romances: His steady gaze was even softer than his voice. It reached out to the broken parts of her like a caress. In general though, Caraval was okay, but okay isn’t what novelists should aspire for.
“It’s going to be all right,” [he] murmured, and he pressed his lips to her forehead. That is a quote taken from later in Caraval. Unfortunately, sentences like those make up the book of the novel, even though this book is purportedly about abusive fathers, missing sisters, manipulation, and marriage. Don’t get me wrong; I think romances novels are awesome but not when the romance takes away from more important topics, like the actual core of the novel! Rather than expound on the long-term effects of enduring traumatic events, the author instead focused way too much on sentences like these: His steady gaze was even softer than his voice. It reached out to the broken parts of her like a caress.
And this reviewer reached out to her copy of Caraval , slamming the broken novel shut not with a caress but with a bang.
Caraval by Stephanie Garber is now available wherever books are sold.