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Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

xxxSounds enticing, doesn’t it? A new YA fantasy that everyone’s raving about, a mystical yet potentially dangerous game wherein you can never be entirely sure what is real and what isn’t. A game of magic and deception, reminiscent of The Hunger Games with some immersion theatre thrown in and ooooh, maybe it’ll be a clever mystery, like Sherlock. No. What it was, was bullshit.I haven’t been this disappointed in or angered by a book since I read A Thousand Pieces of You, and let me tell you, this one is probably on par with that one. Not just because of both books had an awesome premise that fell so flat there was no shot at redemption, but for all the reasons I’m going to list below. Strap in while I disembowel this bloody mess; and yes, there will most likely be spoilers.

Scarlett Dragna is today’s protagonist. Likely named after Scarlett O’Hara by the author, a classic and memorable heroine; strong, unforgettable and many other adjectives that Scarlett Dragna absolutely does not share. She’s a pretty girl, but she doesn’t want anyone to know it, thinks crushes are immoral and is judgmental as fuck.

“This from the girl who had called Scarlett drunk. She was farther away from the lantern, and the rest of the hall’s lights had gone out, so Scarlett couldn’t clearly see her face. She imagined her to be sullen and unattractive.”

Scarlett has always wanted to visit Caraval, a magical show in which the audience are also the players, but unbeknownst to her, her sister Tella has become part of the game, and her experience turns into a mission to find her as quickly as possible. Noble quest, sure, but the girl’s hardly a pleasure to read along with. She never shuts up about her sister (who she supposedly has this amazing super-special magical bond of love with), about how she’s going to get married to this count (who she’s never met, but assumes he’s simply lovely), but she keeps commenting on everyone else’s attractiveness even though *gasp* she couldn’t possibly indulge in thoughts of a liaison.

“”I think he is the most attractive person I’ve ever seen.” She wanted to clap her hand over her mouth and shove the words back inside.”

But, of course she does. Predictably, she falls in love with this bloke Julian, a cocky, swaggy and not-to-mention-a-bit-rapey weasel, an archetype that is all too commonly found in YA literature these days.

“A lot of girls would feel lucky to you be.” He brushed a cool finger against Scarlett’s cheek.

As Scarlett’s companion throughout Caraval, he oils his way into her heart after less than a week of knowing each other and Scarlett of course falls in love (yes, she actually says these words). To top it all off, Scarlett then has a go at her sister for doing the exact same thing!

“Tella this is wrong.” Scarlett said. “You can’t be in love with someone you just met.”

I’m going to breeze over the issue of the plot here because for one thing I don’t want this review to be too spoilery, but I also stopped paying too much attention after the 30% mark, so there’s that. Suffice to say, it’s disappointing. Sure, it’s not dull. There’s deception and twists, all of which can easily be seen coming, but … well, I’m trying to find some positive here. My issue wasn’t with the plot though, or even with the horrible characters. My issue, and I mean my ISSUE, was the goddamn writing.


If YA authors want to condescend, want to treat their readers like children, maybe you should go ahead and publish some goddamn picture books. When 40% of your novel is meaningless filler, intended to both bulk up your shitty little novel and repeat the same information like the reader has the memory of a fucking goldfish, you’re not a good writer.

I was reading this story in bed last night, cup of chamomile in hand, trying to relax. But I was angered, actually really bloody angered by how this author was treating me. Garber just kept repeating herself over and over and over and over and over and fucking over.

“Tella must have been sincere about never returning to Trisda,”

“Scarlett wasn’t sure if these were things Tella had taken selfishly, or if she brought them to the isle for Scarlett because she’d not planned on either of them returning to Trisda.”

“Scarlett knew her sister didn’t plan on going back to Trisda once the game ended”

First third of the book? Every other bleeding paragraph we were reminded that Scarlett was looking for her sister. She was looking for her sister by the way. Have you seen her sister anywhere, because she’s looking for her sister? Maybe we should go over here and advance the plot some more, but don’t forget she’s still looking for her sister! Did she also mention she’s going to marry the count. She’s never met him but he’s lovely honest. She’s totally going to marry him in arranged marriage and he’s a count, did you know? Also, have you seen her sister, she’s looking for her. Just FYI.

When the plot kicked in, there was even more of this shit. Reiterating the stakes and the plan and the goddamn maths for the umpteenth time, like I couldn’t remember this shit. Like I was a young, sweet YA reader, without enough fully-developed brain power to fully comprehend Garber’s intellectually advanced, clever and complicated plot which would certainly put her in the leagues of Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss after publication. I clearly can’t be trusted to remember shit, let alone – hahahahaha – figuring shit out for myself! Christ no, Garber will sort me out! She’ll spoon-feed me her reminders every few paragraphs and I’ll be fucking fine, thanks love.

For the last time, YA authors: DO NOT CONDESCEND TO YOUR AUDIENCE.


This is not how YA literature should be. The YA lit that I love, that I write, that I stand for is a) not this shit and b) an important and worthwhile genre. YA should not treat its readers like children, please have you fucking met a teenager? The only goal they have in life is to be treated like an adult, so why the hell won’t you? Give them the credit they deserve and write YA like you would an adult novel, just make your protagonist a relatable age with relatable struggles, it’t not that hard! Oh, and while I’m furthering my list of opinions, one of the best part of YA literature is helping young adults set themselves up for the future with healthy advice and stories with a good moral to them. So maybe try and make sure your protagonist isn’t a slut-shamer and your love interest understands the word “no”.

And so, to conclude after that lecture tangent, Caraval was rubbish. It made me angry. If this review resonates with you, save yourself a big hassle and skip this over-hyped hunk of black mould.


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