Okay, we’ll admit, this is another book that we’re a little behind on reading. However, with the second in the series, Legendary, about to be released, we thought we’d better get our skates on and get reviewing Caraval…and debating it!
First, here's a quick summary of what it's all about.
Scarlett is a young woman, set to marry a count at her father's behest. Her sister, Tella, is a far more wilder sort, and they both harbour a desire to get as far away from their childhood home as possible.
Scarlett is desperate to get an invite to the Caraval, a magical event run by a mysterious man called Legend. It's one big game, spread out over five days, and whoever wins receives a special prize. So, when her sister drags her into this year's Caraval, accompanied by Julian, a handsome sailor, she finds it hard to resist - even when her sister goes missing.
With Tella now the goal of Caraval, Scarlett must solve the mystery and rescue her sister. However, the game takes a darker turn than she anticipates, and soon, she's left wondering what's real and what's not...
Lucy: Nick, I can already tell from your face that you weren’t impressed with this one.
Nick: Understatement of the year, Luce. But you liked it?
Lucy: I did! I had a few reservations, but overall I thought it was good fun.
Nick: This is going to be a heated debate, I can tell.
Lucy: Hee hee, do I need to prepare myself?
Nick: You do! Where to start, eh? How about you begin with the world-building, as I know you appreciated that aspect of it.
Lucy: I liked the whole concept. This notion of this out-of-control game / social event that moves from place to place, with magic that shifts and transforms everything around it; I thought that was clever. I particularly liked the little details, like Scarlett’s dress changing depending on her circumstances.
Nick: I’m going to stop you right there. The world-building was sketchy and lazy. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it was non-existent.
Lucy: Oh come on, that’s far too harsh. I could picture it all fairly easily, which is what world-building is all about isn’t it?
Nick: Nah, you’re being way too kind. I thought it relied on a load of tried-and-tested ‘magical’ concepts, with nothing fresh or interesting at all.
Lucy: What about the fortune teller with the tattoos that told people’s fortunes? How can you say that things like that weren’t original?
Nick: Isolated pockets of creativity, that’s all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not quibbling the author’s ability to write here. I’m just not impressed with the world of Caraval. It didn’t resonate with me at all.
Lucy: Yikes. Let’s move on swiftly and talk about the characters. I must say, I had a few issues here, mainly with some of them feeling a little bit stereotyped. Scarlett in particular was problematic for me; she seemed so helpless throughout, and seemed to rely on men to save her – which is a plot device that the feminist in me was never going to appreciate.
Nick: Yes, totally agree. Scarlett was a cardboard cut-out figure of a girl and didn’t interest me much. I initially thought her villainous father was a bit more intriguing, but then he turned out to be your typical irredeemable bad guy. And as for Legend – the star ‘villain’ of the piece? A puff of pure nothing, if you ask me.
Lucy: I liked Scarlett’s sister Tella though. She had a bit more oomph and spirit to her. In fact, I’ve just started reading Legendary (the second in the series) and was really happy to see Tella take centre stage.
Nick: Well, fair enough, but I won’t be reading it, I can tell you.
Lucy: I guessed as much! What about the romantic aspect? I didn’t love this; again because I felt Scarlett succumbed too easily to Julian’s advances. Also, he was such an archetypal ‘bad guy turned good’ / ‘tortured hero’ type that I found myself getting a little irritated.
Nick: See? You didn’t love it as much as you’re pretending to!
Lucy: (laughing) I still enjoyed it, I just didn’t love those parts!
Nick: Well, I’d go as far as to say that the romance turned my stomach a bit. It was overly heavy-handed and the physicality of it all was creepy. Why are predatory men portrayed as sexy? It’s crazy, especially as this is aimed at a YA audience. I don’t want my child reading this and thinking that a ‘good’ romance means a man preying on a vulnerable woman.
Lucy: That’s an interesting view-point actually, as you’re absolutely right, this book is clearly targeting young women of a certain age. However, there are so many books that use that particular trope, and I think as long as the woman is shown to be fully in control of the situation at all times, it’s not so bad, is it?
Nick: I’m unconvinced, I’m afraid. However, I acknowledge that I’m not the target audience for this book, and that should be taken into consideration.
Lucy: Yes, it’s definitely not a book that’s aimed at men! Well, dare I ask what star-rating you’re giving it, Nick? I’m going for a solid, enjoyable 4 / 5 stars.
Nick: Hmm. I never like to totally rubbish a book, especially when the author can clearly write well, and when I know it wasn’t aimed at readers like me. Let’s go for 2 / 5 stars.
Nick: No, totally fair. I didn’t enjoy it at all, there were parts I found massively problematic, but I accept that others may adore it.
Lucy: It’s had tens of thousands of good reviews on Goodreads, so presumably lots of people did!
Nick: Fair play to them, and fair play to the author. Right, do you want a cup of coffee? I need one after that heated discussion!
Lucy: I think we both need to slip a shot of whisky in it or something.
Nick: It’s not even mid-afternoon yet!