Caraval by Stephanie Garber. 407 pages.
Scarlett and her sister Tella have never left the tiny island where they live, under the grasp of their powerful and cruel father. Scarlett's weeks away from an arranged marriage that she knows will take her away from the island, but she still dreams about seeing Caraval, the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the magical show. For years, she has hoped for an invitation and when it finally arrives, Tella (with the help of a mysterious sailor), take Scarlett away to the show. However, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped; and thus begins the game. Can Scarlett find her sister before the end of Caraval and she is gone forever?
While I enjoyed this book, I felt like I wasn't quite the right audience for it. While I read some young adult fiction, and this book definitely has appeal for adults, I found myself thinking that I could write the summary of the story like this:
Sisters on an island with nasty father dream of escaping to a yearly magical and mysterious circus performance. An invitation is issued . . but alas, can one sister attend and still be home in time for her arranged wedding? Enter handsome (and also mysterious) young sailor who whisks said sisters away to another island, to participate in Caraval. But oh no! Other sister is kidnapped, and entire mysterious magical event centers around finding said sister. By the one sister, who is now hopelessly attracted to mysterious and handsome young sailor (oh no! oh yes!) Are we doomed to have a love triangle? Oh no! Oh yes! Well, kind of. Engaged sister is torn between desire for handsome and mysterious sailor, in addition to handsome and mysterious man in black, in addition to dangerous and mysterious proprietor of Caraval. Who can she trust? Maybe the sailor, maybe not. And it's all so distracting that she's attracted to him, yet feels an obligation to her arranged marriage with a man she has never met . . .
Ok. All snark aside, there were some elements of the story that I really liked. The concept of Caraval is pretty cool and there are interesting side characters. I especially liked the dark thread that runs through this story, where no coin currency exists, and to obtain things, you trade secrets or lies . . or a day of your life. However, I felt I wanted more dark, more potentially dangerous and nasty. I could do without the romantic aspects of the story completely. And that's what probably makes me the wrong audience for this book. While I don't mind a bit of romance, I find it annoys me when it drives the story or feels too overdone. Call me cynical, but give me The Night Circus or Something Wicked This Way Comes. I like Caraval, but I want it to be more sinister. If I was 15, however, this would be so swoon-worthy. The author has a somewhat lush writing style at times, and definitely paints the world of Caraval to be interesting and enticing. The fact that I could predict elements of the story only reflects the fact that I have many years of reading behind me (as opposed to being a 15 year-old reading the book).
All cynicism aside, I'm curious about the next installment of the book. I'm also curious about what happens with the film rights, because this could really be a cool movie (especially if I can watch it at home and fast-forward through any annoying parts).