Caraval, by Stephanie Garber
Caraval was billed as the YA answer to Erin Morgenstern's magnificent The Night Circus - fantastical spectacle of a setting, with magic woven through the fabric of the book and the very world, where belief is suspended and romance steals our hearts.
That was The Night Circus. Caraval was not The Night Circus. So it really needs to be taken as something completely different. And setting something up to compare with a modern classic is not going to do you any favours, unfortunately. Caraval definitely fell flat for me.
Not that there weren't parts of the book to enjoy. Julian in particular was very swoon-worthy, and I'm not going to complain about muscular sailors running around and being alternately salty and romantic. I'm all in. However, Scarlet, our heroine, was overly precious and grated on me, more and more as the book went on.
The parts that I did quite like were in fact the parts that weren't actually in the book. Scarlet's sister Donatella seems like a super interesting character (also with a fantastic name and I wished it wasn't shortened to Tella!) Legend seems quite obviously fascinating. And yet neither of them were really in the story.
I was also very confused the whole time. And not in a "suspended belief as I enter a magical world" kind of way, but where things were not explained very well. The whole time passing quicker stuff? Kind of glossed over halfway through the book. And there was no real foundation as to how the magic or the world worked. I think there's the beginning of something cool, but wasn't totally developed enough.
I found the stuff with her father to be super creepy, especially when he started stalking them through the grounds of Caraval. It was actually giving me some Magic Toyshop vibes. I was wondering if he was actually there, or if the book was starting to get allergorical about abuse. But no, the book isn't that clever. For all that "nothing is as it seems," everything is actually pretty straight-forward.
So I think that Caraval was a bit over-hyped, but I'm willing to read the next one. Maybe from the library, though.