3.5 out of 5 stars
Rich and gorgeously detailed, Caraval sets up its own mystique so well, that the eventual plot isn’t quite as clever as it gives itself credit for.
Sheltered Scarlett lives on an Italian-esque isle called Trisda with her tarty sister, Donatella, and their abusive father, the Governor. Both dream of fleeing their lives, but in different way: Scarlett through her impending arranged marriage, Donatella by lifting her skirts. They end up invited to a famously exclusive and alluring performance game called Caraval, hosted by an enigmatic magician named Legend. They can’t go, of course, but they end up there, of course.
On arrival, Scarlett finds that she is a player, while Donatella is, in fact, the game. Scarlett must race against time and other players to solve the clues and find her sister. The story takes a dark turn when Legend’s past and his madness become personal.
Though I give the overall book 3.5 stars, the imagery is a 5. I want to wear this story like a gown. The stunningly described visuals and strange magic give Caraval a glittering, eerie feel; the perfect board for a game of betrayal, murder and madness. Caraval did keep me guessing, twisting so often as to be nearly impenetrable – and a little annoying. There are a few too many role-reversals, mistaken identities and switcheroos. It starts as a deftly layered plot, then gets mired in too many easy-way-out plot devices.
Scarlett begins as a bit of a wet noddle as a main character, but she grew on me as she grew a spine. Her sister Donatella seemed far more interesting. The other characters, well – it’s clear when you’re meant to love or hate them, but they change their stripes too often and become predictably unpredictable. It kept me from really caring about them.
The end was satisfying, though I was tired from all this when I reached it. Then, just when I needed it, the end swooped in like one of Legend’s grand invitations – to the next book! Voila! Excited again.