Caraval: Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game

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I'm going to open by admitting that I have some mixed feelings about this book. I know a lot of you are HUGE fans and it makes sense because what an adventure. I also had some problems with it though. But I'll get to those later.


Caraval is largely the story of two sisters and how far they would go for each other. Scarlett is older, responsible, and scared of everything that might take her off the course of her plan to marry a Count from a distant land and take her sister away from their abusive father. Donatella, on the other hand, is wild and has some plans of her own to escape.

Enter Legend, the master of Caraval, a traveling circus-ish performance that is also a game with really high stakes and only one winner. Scarlett has been writing to Legend for years asking for tickets for her and her sister to go to Caraval because as a child she believes it to be a magical escape. She had given up hope until one day a letter from Legend arrives inviting her, her sister Donatella, and her fiance, the mysterious Count she has never met, to attend the performance and compete in the game for the chance to win one wish.

Scarlett doesn't think it's possible for them to go but unbeknownst to her, and thanks to some crafty thinking by Donatella and the help of a handsome young sailor named Julian, the sisters are soon on their way to the magical isle where Caraval is set to take place. What they find there is much more than they bargained for.


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Starting with the things I really like, WHAT A COOL WORLD! I want to go to Caraval. One of the amazing and unique things about this book were the descriptions. I love how much Stephanie Garber relied on smell and color. I don't usually have such a clear picture in my head of what everything smells like!

I did want more though, and I hope she dives deeper into the world in the next book. There has to be so much more to Caraval and I want to know it all!

I have to admit though, Scarlett got annoying really fast. She was SO cautious. I wanted so badly for her to start taking more chances, mostly because my experience of Caraval as a reader solely relied on her opening herself up to more opportunities. She was also pretty slow at putting pieces of the puzzle together sometimes. I wanted to shout at her GIRL COME ON GET THERE.

The story really started to mess with me in some places and I thought that was extremely cool. When you're dealing with a world that is entirely make-believe, it's fun to not know which characters are telling the truth, who Scarlett can really trust, if people are who they say they are, and WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING. The reading experience felt like a game and that was wonderful to escape into.

And now for what I believe will be my least popular opinion on this book, YA romance can get really weird sometimes and I honestly wasn't that into this one. It seemed really weighted for two people who just met. And I get that they are young and in a tense situation. But the writing was SO heavy and in my opinion, overdone in some places.

It is written in a couple different places when Scarlett and Julian are having moments that Julian was looking at Scarlett, "as if he wanted her to be his undoing." What does that even mean? There's also a passage near the end that reads, "Scarlett could feel the pieces of her battered heart daring to move back together," when she realizes Julian's love for her might be real. That's just a little much for me.

All in all, I thought it was a fun tale of adventure that was easy to lose myself in for an afternoon, even if the story as a whole was a little weightless. Not all stories have to be deep. Some just have to be fun and inspire us to believe in magic. And this one did that very, very well.