For years, Scarlett wrote to the infamous Caraval Master Legend in the hopes that he would bring his famed performers to the Isle of Trisda. Their mother had abandoned them, their father had turned cold, and it was their Nana's stories of the magical Caravel that kept Scarlett and her sister, Donatella, amused. Not only that, the tales allowed the girls to dream.
Years passed, though, with no answer from Legend. Escape from Trisda is always on their minds, however, and it seems it will finally come to pass with Scarlett's betrothal. And it's this, that finally prompts a response from Legend. Now, Donatella has gone missing, part of Legend's twisted game, and it's up to Scarlett to follow the clues and find her. Her only hope for saving them both is winning the game, but this game and its players don't play fair or follow the rules.
Oh, Caraval. Stephanie Garber's debut is probably one of the most anticipated of the new year. That anticipation, though, may have been my own downfall in the reading.
Scarlett and her sister have basically been held prisoner by their father since their mother left. And there's been no trace of Paloma in all that time. Their literal only hope for escape is Scarlett's marriage, and the girl is determined not to see it put at risk no matter what. And that includes being put at risk by the one other thing she's always hoped and dreamed for: attending Caraval.
But her stubborn sister has other ideas. So not only are they part of a game, Scarlett fears inevitable repercussions at the hands of her father and the very possible breaking of her betrothal as well. But Scarlett and Tella have only ever had each other, and that bond means that the sisters will do anything for one another.
Caraval is a magical and wonderful and, as Scarlett discovers, terrible place. Held on an island far from her home, the entire landscape is enchanted. The game is played at night and time passes much differently while in the game. Garber's imagery is amazing. The whimsy and sorcery of Caraval is beautifully and horrifically described, coming to life through Garber's narrative and is definitely a highlight of the tale.
Sadly, I wasn't as enchanted by Caraval as I'd expected to be. It's set up with a bit of a cliffhanger ending and some plot elements that aren't fully tied up - in particular, the tunnels that promise madness and the multiple incidents involving a woman in a gray dress that are never really explained - I assume these will be fodder for the next installment. There was also a general feeling while I read that the story dragged a little and should have ended earlier than it actually did.
Scarlett as a lead was enjoyable. Seeing her try to tease out the meaning of the various clues was definitely a highlight - as was her meeting of various side characters (I loved Aiko!). But my biggest issue with the story was Tella. She was so infuriating! At no point did she win me over, unfortunately, and so there was a part of me that really wasn't rooting for Scarlett to win the game in the end!
So while the concept was wonderful and most of the execution fine, this debut was unfortunately missing just a bit of magic for me. The elements I liked in the tale were strong enough to keep me interested and invested. It was really only the end that lost me but I'll likely hop on board with the follow up nonetheless.