Published on January 31, 2017
Remember, it’s only a game…
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.
Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.
The setting of both the game and Scarlett’s hometown felt very vivid in Caraval. The game itself definitely had a magical quality to it—that was one of my favorite things about the book. I also liked the sense of unspooling mystery. It’s like the story is constantly evolving and anything can happen. Caraval maintains a good balance between this plasticity and magic and having an organized plot where the stakes only get higher with every new revelation in the story.
I found Scarlett and Julian (the sailor who helps her and Tella escape) both super likeable. I wasn’t sure at first that I would like either of them. In the beginning, Scarlett is such a fraidy cat and so committed to her planned marriage that I kind of felt put off. But as she learns to unbend and find her way through a game based on her greatest fears (big risks and her sister missing), I grew to love her and respect her. By the end, not only did I want her to win the game, but I was totally rooting for the romance to have a happily ever after, too.
The story is a bit dark. The game master is rumored to have some pretty deep revenge issues and seems to have a really cavalier attitude about human life. Some of the magical elements (fortune telling, trading days of one’s life for a desired object) have a darkness to them, too. The epilogue might be the part with the most adult content because of a character being drunk and looking for a one night stand. See below for other content information.
I really enjoyed reading Caraval. I’m a little bit torn about reading the second book, though, because based on the epilogue, it looks like the story will be from another character’s point-of-view. While the plot looks really interesting, I’m not sure I’d enjoy this character’s viewpoint. So I’m not sure yet whether I’ll read the next one.
If you liked Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, make sure to check out Caraval.
Julian has brown skin and dark eyes. The story has some Spanish words for places.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Kissing between boy and girl. Scarlett refuses to share a room with Julian, so they agree to take turns sleeping in the room they were assigned for the game. They do share the bed one night, but nothing sexual happens and they’re technically dead during that night. Scarlett’s father offers her to a man (intending for her to have sex with him), and she unwillingly goes with him but his attempts at seducing her get thwarted.
The players of Caraval warn Scarlett and others that nothing happening inside the game is real, but Scarlett experiences magic in various forms (trading time for a dress, dreams that reveal the past to her, having her fortune read to her.).
One scene shows Scarlett and Tella’s father physically abusing them. (He strikes one girl with his hand so that his rings will cut her face.) Other references to past abuses.
Scarlett looks for her companion in a bar. Scarlett participates in a ritual exchange, giving a drop of her blood, and immediately experiences an altered mental state. One scene shows Tella very drunk and hoping to go to bed with a stranger.