From Goodreads: Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved 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 far-away, 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. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.
You know how sometimes you come across a book that you really think you should like? That you keep reading because something keeps making you hang on, while at the same time so many things are bugging you? And in the end, you wish you’d just stopped reading because it would have been better not to need to review a book in that condition? Yeah. That.
I’ve heard nothing but good things about Caraval, and I’ve heard a lot of comparisons to one of my favorite books ever, The Night Circus. To get that out of the way immediately, let me just say that this book was not at all like The Night Circus in my opinion. Yes, the Caraval games take place at night, but that’s literally the only similarity. I recognized that quickly, though, and so I didn’t find the book disappointing because it wasn’t a second Night Circus.
Honestly, I couldn’t say why exactly the book didn’t work for me. There was something about it that felt young. Not as in, this is YA and so it feels young, but that the characters, world, magic, writing, mysteries, all of it felt like the bones of a really great story when I wanted a lot more of the meat. The thing is, I don’t think it was a bad book at all – I just know it wasn’t the book for me, and I don’t think it would have been had I read it at another time, in another mood, etc. The story was enticing enough to keep me reading, though I knew from the first couple pages that it wouldn’t work out in the end. I kept thinking maybe something would change, that the world would get deeper or richer, and I’d be swept away. The magic left me untouched, though. Ah well.