‘Caraval’ is one of those rare gems. You simply open the first page and you’re instantly absorbed into a plotline and world so delightfully created you ignore any sense of self, time or place. I woke up at 7am one weekend in order to read a few chapters before my boyfriend woke up to have some truly uninterrupted reading!
However, a good plot and good world-building doesn’t always make for a good novel.
Fortunately, this isn’t the case for Stephanie Garber’s YA Novel. The few critiques I and other critics have towards the book obviously hasn’t changed the mass appreciation and fanbuilding that has come with Garber’s popular series. Sadly, I’ve jumped onto the ‘Caraval’ bandwagon almost 3 years after the series started. Garber’s third and final part of the series, ‘Finale’, will be released in Hardback later this year in May (UK).
YA novels tend to be rather overdone and overclichéd but ‘Caraval’ offers some refreshing relief. I have begun to stray away from reading YA novels. The novels I once read religiously have been replaced by more adult and strenuous fiction thanks to the pressure of university reading and the development of personal taste with age. However, it’s a relief to see that the dystopian ‘YA’ trope is finally dead and buried after 3 years in the limelight.
I found ‘Caraval’ new and unique. Garber’s choice to set her novel within a magical carnival-like setting was unique yet also effectively tactical. It preempts the boom of period magical realism within settings such as ‘The Greatest Showman’ in 2017, yet also effectively leads on from Jessie Burton’s ‘The Miniaturist’ in 2014 and Erin Morgernstern’s ‘The Night Circus’. The trend, for the time, was rarely displayed in YA fiction and I think Garber made the correct choice in setting up her novel the way she did.
Yet despite her fabulous world-building, I found her characters somewhat lacking. Notions of sexual chastity and descriptions of fashion seem to place her story around the 19th century, yet her characters rarely seem to display this in their attitudes, thoughts or conversations. I understand that some of these ideas must have to have been molded in some ways to allow the traditional romance plot found within YA novels, yet the ongoing narrative qualm within Scarlett’s story of her impending arranged marriage felt a bit worthless against the modern-thinking and speaking characters.
Barring this, Garber’s plot was interesting and unique. It offers twists somewhat expected, yet Garber counteracts this with twists relatively unseen within YA novels. This gave the novel a sense of unpredictability which I really enjoyed. Yet I also think that the plot may have been somewhat too overambitious. A lot happened, and a lot was trying to happen. I often couldn’t remember what had preceded before the section I was currently reading due to the sheer amount of content.
I’m still not too sure whether this is a good or bad thing. I’d like to believe that this was a more conscious effort by Garber herself to display the unpredictability of ‘Caraval(s)’ world, yet a part of me is still unsure about the whole creative choice in whole. The use of cliffhangers within every chapter came off as a little childlike and unnecessary. It was as if Garber felt she had to include cliffhangers within each chapter to prolong readership but it only seemed to downplay the truly climatic elements within her plotline that made the novel so interesting in the first place.
I enjoyed the ending of the novel in terms of the closure of Scarlett’s narrative; but not necessarily the end of the novel itself. Garber’s epilogue towards the end of the novel seems to imply that her second novel ‘Legendary’ leads on from the end of the first novel with Scarlett’s sister, Donatella, taking over the role of the narrator and I didn’t particularly like the epilogue or the focus on it as the novel was ending. Instead, I felt the new conflicts Scarlett was facing was interesting in that they turned ideas of incompatibility and unpredictability found within YA romances on its head. I’m interested to see how these are going to be continued to tackled later on within the series. What I am most disappointed in is that all of Caraval’s secrets appeared to have been revealed within only the first book of the series. I wish that the secrets I had learnt were slowly revealed over the course of three novels rather than in one big flurry over two chapters, however I’m sure that more will be contested and introduced later on within the series. I had a sense that if Garber really wanted to she could have avoided an entire series if she had simply ended the novel towards the conclusion of the first book. It’ll be interesting to see if my perspective changes upon reading the second and final novels later this year.
I also didn’t particularly like Scarlett as a protagonist. She was judgemental, silly, slightly weak in her creation, and generally uninteresting. I felt like she was very one layered. Her one interesting, defining moment that reasoned her insecurities and fear for her sister was revealed within only the first few chapters of her character being introduced. There was no sense of mystery or development within her characters and this, for me, marred the otherwise fantastic plotlines and descriptions within Garber’s novel. I felt like I was simply re-reading so many of the other typical tropes of female heroines within YA which left me feeling a little disappointed.
Julian also felt much of the same. He was that same ‘guy’ we see in every single YA novel ever. The perfect bad boy. The abs, the tan, the willingness to die for any girl he lays eyes upon. However, I will admit that my perspective of his character did somewhat change with the ending of the novel, yet his character still felt very general. It could’ve been any other character from any other YA novel in his place and I wouldn’t have noticed. I wish he could have been fleshed out some more. What were his interests other than Scarlett? What were his habits? What were his dislikes?
Yet, despite all this, I truly did enjoy ‘Caraval’.
I wouldn’t say I loved reading it, but I do have to marvel and give credit to a book that can make the reader fall so deeply into the rabbit hole of its story.
‘Caraval’ was an interesting, intriguing read and I look forward to pursuing the series later this year.
Make sure you stay in touch over on @thatbookblogger(s) Instagram to stay up to date with all our reviews and posts on ‘ThatBookBlog’. Let me know your thoughts and recommendations over on our ‘Contact’ page. April’s review material will soon be released!