What Mama Reads: Caraval

I see you. I see all eight of you reading this rolling your 16 (combined) eyes straight to the ceiling.

“When is this woman going to read anything other than young-adult novels? And is she ever going to get back to kids’ books?” you whisper in a huff.

Mama likes shiny things.

Don’t worry, fair men and maidens! The responsibility of this blog alone is making me expand my horizons and read differing genres from time to time. Caraval by Stephanie Garber had been sitting on my night stand for FAR too long, however, so I couldn’t resist.


On the back of the book jacket is a paper ticket stating:

Admit One

To be used once, to gain entrance into Caraval.

Main gates close at midnight. Anyone who arrives later than this will not be able to participate or win this year’s prize of one wish.

Intriguing, yes? Yes. Especially yes for someone like me who loved Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. And Caraval is practically The Night Circus’ baby, at least in appearance. And isn’t “caraval” a fancy word for “carnival?” And isn’t a carnival basically a circus?

(Ahem, oops, apparently not. As the possessor of all wisdom and knowledge, Google gently explained to me that “caraval” is simply the title of this particular book and asked if I meant “caravel.” OK, I thought, sure! Yeah … a caravel was a small, fast Spanish or Portuguese sailing ship of the 15th–17th centuries. May this be a lesson in fact checking.)

Are y’all impressed by my phone photography yet?

I read The Night Circus while my husband and I — pre-children and pre-homeownership and pre-adulting in many ways — backpacked through Europe for three weeks. Therefore, it’ll always have a magical place in my memory.

Speaking of magic, Caraval’s back cover was littered with this type of language. It promised me “spellbinding,” “enchanting,” “decadent,” and “shimmers with magic.”

Maybe I completely missed the point (always that vague, blurry possibility), but these were highly over-exaggerated reviews meant to sell me a book with a glittery cover.

I’m a bit disappointed, but I was so excited to read this book that I have to get a little wordy about it (English major fault. Also, I’m eating a fourth of a chocolate-chip pie currently, which only adds to the fervour).

And so, here we go.

Scarlett Dragna loves her sister, Donatella “Tella,” more than anything. Their father is mean, nasty, and vindictive, and, according to Scarlett, wore “plum-colored gloves, the shade of dark bruises and power.” They’re also perfumed and smell of anise, lavender, and “something akin to rotted plums.” Wait, what?

Throughout the entire novel, Scarlett sees (feels) in color. She sees flashes of color attached to her strongest emotions, the book says. A golden edge of a piece of paper was “the color of magic and wishes and promises of things to come,” while smoke was “the color of things better said in whispers.” Call me cynical, but this artsy-for-no-reason language irked me every time it appeared.

The sisters received tickets to attend Caraval, this mysterious playground event concocted by Legend, a magical man with a dark past. They steal away (Tella more eagerly than Scarlett) from their father’s island with a pirate named Julian to experience the sumptuous feast we’re promised in the Caraval experience.

However, Tella is kidnapped as part of the game, and Scarlett spends the entire book dealing with drama and intrigue and murder and ugly-colored situations. Thankfully, she falls in love, and (you guessed it!) both she and her love interest are B-E-A-Utiful people with no physical flaws (YA for ya). And, of course, there’s a happy ending. Golden rainbows all around.

I dunno. I just didn’t feel the light, playful magic for which I was looking (for the record, I hate sentences like this, but it irks me to end with a preposition. Therefore, I’m stuck sounding stuffy and pretentious). I don’t feel like the game of Caraval was well explained, so I had to keep flipping through the pages looking for what I’d missed. The protagonist seemed to wander through the game and happen upon or guess at the right answers with no reasoning or wherewithal.

Bleh. Sorry for the less-than-thrilling review. I would’ve skipped this entirely, but figured I may as well write it since I used a few long nap times (when I could’ve been sleeping myself!) to finish the book.

What book have you read that left you dissatisfied, even though you were certain you’d love it?

Published by Christine Boatwright


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