I picked this up because it appeared to be a YA book with a The Night Circus feel, and I liked that book, so why not? The premise is kind of similar. There is a traveling extraordinary circus show that performs once a year. The audience can either participate or watch, but the participants are playing a giant game to win a prize. This year’s prize just happens to be a wish.
Scarlett Dragna has always wanted to see the mysterious Caraval, encouraged by the tales her grandmother used to tell her of her visit. She needs a little magic in her life – she’s about to get married to a mysterious count her father has chosen for her, and she has never left the island she grew up on. She has her sister, Donatella (or Tella), who seems kind of reckless and inconsiderate, tbh. And kind of slutty. (Honestly, I don’t really like her as a character. My opinion of her does not improve throughout the book.) Their father is a baddie – he’s extremely strict and cruel, and will physically and mentally abuse the other sister from the one who performed some indiscretion, so as to punish both. The girls are not allowed to leave the island, especially with Scarlett’s wedding coming up. But Scarlett receives invitations from the master of Caraval himself, Legend: one for her, one for Tella, and one for Scarlett’s unnamed fiance. Tella is all about going, and with the help of some misdirection, she gets the two of them off the island with the help of Julian, a simple visiting sailor. Or IS he?!?
In getting to the island Caraval takes place on, Tella and Scarlett get separated. Julian stays with Scarlett, pretending to be her fiance, a lie which Scarlett reluctantly goes along with. Scarlett almost finds her sister, but then doesn’t. Scarlett also has a creepy dream in which Legend tells her he brought her to the island to play the game, not just watch. Scarlett remembers the story of Legend, which her grandmother told her. Legend, who was not Legend at the time, was a not-very-good performer ‘in love’ with a pretty girl. She claimed her father would not approve her marrying a poor man, so he went to a witch, who granted him a wish. He wished to have the greatest show in the world, because obviously then the girl would love him. The witch told him he could have his love or his show, and he chose the show, and the girl married someone else, unsurprisingly. Now Legend has an awesome magical show with the price of him being kinda creepy.
The first night of Caraval, Scarlett discovers the plot of this year’s game. The way to win is to find Tella, who is supposed to be with Legend. So now everyone is looking for Scarlett’s sister, and not everyone has her best interests in mind. Scarlett fears for the worst. She also lies a lot, whether it is to others or to herself. It’s really kind of annoying. These people are trying to teach her valuable life lessons, and she’s lying to them! (Whenever there is magic or fortune tellers or whatever, they’re always telling truths that the person listening doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to understand.) Oh, and for some reason Scarlett can see her emotions as colors. How this is pertinent I have no idea. It seems to come up sporadically. (Upon finishing the book, this skill was… not that necessary.)
There’s confusion and running around and misdirection and all sorts of things going on. And lying, there’s a lot of lying going on. I think the book would make a good movie, actually. There’s a lot of spectacle and I feel like the action would translate well to the screen. I’m still not sure how I feel about the end. I think I was slightly disappointed, but I’m not sure. I’ve heard rumors that this is a two-part series, so perhaps that will change with the next book.