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.
“She imagined loving him would feel like falling in love with darkness, frightening and consuming yet utterly beautiful when the stars came out.”
This book…what a roller coaster! What a rush! Especially the ending was what a ohmigosh what is happeningggg!!! I finished this book three days ago and have been procrastinating writing this review because I honestly have no idea what to even say about this book it’s crazy and crazy and I guess I will start writing now before I lose all sense of coherency.
In Caraval, Scarlett Dragna and her sister venture to Caraval, a sort of carnival type game that’s the closest thing to magic anyone knows run by the elusive grand master Legend. There, Scarlet finds herself swept away by the game, finding it harder and harder to believe that it’s all just a game and not real as crazier and crazier things start to happen to her life…and let me tell you, I wasn’t sure if it was a game or not either!! (Is it?? Is it not?? You’ll have to read and see and then report back to me and lmk because my mind is still a little muddled lol just kidding I hope)
Anyways, I feel like there were two layers of world building here. The outer layer was pretty weak, because I feel like the whole setting and world isn’t really established. We just know that there are islands and Scarlet is going to marry a Count so I suppose there is royalty and it feels like fantasy but there is (supposedly) no magic except for really Caraval so is it more historical fiction? Idk. bUT! Within the layer of the greater world, there’s the development for Carval itself and that was fantastic! It’s so magical but also a shade darker and creepy with the gradual mystique of how the game itself works being unveiled as Scarlet and the reader try to figure it out at the same time and I am here for it! I was kind of getting darker wonderland vibes and I love Alice in Wonderland so that was A+.
The book also has a lot of fluffy purple prose. Usually this annoys me, but I feel like it worked really well here in setting the mysterious, dreamy but also creepy carnival setting. At times it felt like a bit much, a bit cringy, especially when she started describing her emotions in color and I was like giiiirl are you high, but for the most part it really worked here!
I really liked the main romance. It was sort of like not hate to love but more like I’m seriously annoyed with you to love which is close enough for my soul to be satisfied haha. I also really like how the main love interest was pretty mysterious and guarded and the whole time I was like whattt?? Who are you really??? Are you amazing and swoony or are secretly a murderer (not really…or am I…) and overall that was great too.
The character of Scarlet could be a bit annoying, especially with her stuck up superiority and reluctance to try anything. She was definitely far from the most horrible heroines I’ve read about though, and there was a really sweet determination she had to save her sister no matter what!
The ending though…the ending was actually insane and so twisty and turny that there was absolutely NO WAY I would ever have been able to predict what was about to happen! Be warned–once you get close enough to the end, it’s impossible to put the book down! I did feel like it was all resolved a bit too cleanly for the rest of the book, and some things could definitely have been explained better, but overall the ending was definitely the high point!
★★★★ / 5