Books

Caraval by Stephanie Garber Book Review

This book is good.  If you want the short and sweet version of this review, I’d say read it.  It has flaws, sure, but it’s pros outweigh its cons for me and the mysteries, characters and world are worth getting through them because there’s major payoff at the plots conclusion.  Plus, the sequel book sounds like it’ll be great after the epilogue!  I just wanted to get that out of the way:  This is a good book, if you like fantasy, romance, and mystery, check it out.  But for those of you who want a more in depth review, keep reading!

 

Plot summary

 

Welcome, welcome to Caraval – Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful – and cruel – father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the faraway once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year Scarlett’s long dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever. – From Audible

 

World Building

 

The world building is done interestingly, though I won’t say it’s perfect.  We see the world through the main characters eyes, and due to her upbringing, she has a very narrow world view.  We get a description of how the world works, and the way finding out the basics of the world is done in a well rounded way that isn’t just an exposition dump.  There are a lot of vague descriptions when we get to Caraval that I felt tried to lend to the mystery – but at the same time, parts of the book were really frustrating to read because of how vague the author kept descriptions.  The magic system in Caraval alssso…doesn’t really make sense, in all honesty.  But if you ignore that and just come along for the ride, the book is enjoyable.

 

Plot Progression/Pacing

 

The pacing is the biggest issue for me with the book, along with Scarlet in the first half of the story (we’ll get to that in the characters section).  I was so frustrated with how the book was progressing, and where it was trying to go in the first half, that I had to go read some reviews with minor spoilers in it.  They really just mentioned what characters would be popping up, and when I saw that my interest in the book was re-engaged.  But, the book doesn’t get interesting for me until around chapter 17 to chapter 20 – that’s when the book starts to get really good, and super engaging.  I marathoned the 2nd half of the book in 2 days, it just was really great.  The stakes were raised properly, it got really intense, and the characters all had mysteries I wanted to see solved.  Scarlet is amazing in the 2nd half of the book as well, and her character development had me rooting for her the entire book.

 

The plot was…well, the plot threads aren’t all answered, but the plot threads for the first book are.  I don’t think the multitude of plot twists at the end were all good, some of them felt like they were just thinly vailed reasons to keep characters in the game for a sequel novel.  Although all the plot twists weren’t welcome for me, the overall progression of the plot was slow in the first half, fast paced in the second.  When Scarlet couldn’t figure out obvious clues though, I was banging my head against the wall!  It’s a major irritant of mine when a character can’t figure out something that is so freaking obvious!
There were a lot of predictable plot threads, and a lot of convoluted plot twists, but if you suspend your disbelief and just enjoy this book for what it is, it’s tons of fun.

 

Characters

 

This is where the book shines.  The characters are great!  All well fleshed out, very realistic characters you feel for.  Scarlet, as I said, really annoyed me in the beginning:  but, the reasons she acted the way she did in the first half of the book were well explained, and her character arc was masterfully done.  I’m always annoyed with characters who are indecisive, but knowing what Scarlet has gone through her entire life, I felt awful for being annoyed with her because I know why she was acting the way she did.  And, that frustration had major payoff, because when Scarlet comes into her own, wow is she fierce!  Like I said in the above section by books end I was rooting for her, and absolutely adored her.  I really hope she appears in the sequel books, she’s so great.
Julian is another example of how well Garber writes characters.  He has secrets to hide, but the person we see is the person he is, and he’s a great foil for Scarlet.  Their relationships progression is one of the gems in this book.  No cases of insta love:  Their relationship grows from distrust, to trust, to friendship, to love and it’s throughout the entirety of the book, so once again, really realistic.  When he finally spills the beans about his true identity, I wasn’t really surprised to be honest.  The two things he wound up being, were two of my theories very early on in the book, but I thought what the final reveal was was a great way to subvert the readers expectations of what the reveal was going to be.
Scarlet and Julian are the perfect couple, and that’s not to say they’re both perfect.  They know how to push each other to be the best people they can be, accept each other for all of their flaws, know how to make each other brave and strong and it’s such a breath of fresh air to see a grounded relationship in a YA novel.  10/10, OTP!

 

 

Donnatella, much like Caraval, is a bundle of magic and mystery.  She does something that you’d originally think was horrible and selfish, but when you see the consequences of her actions, you see her in a whole new light.  Tella is selfless, brave, and just as strong, if not more so, than Scarlet and we see this both in the beginning, and end of the book.  But to say any more about Tella would be a spoiler, so I’ll stop there XD
Governor Dragna is the worst you can get.  The perfect villain, because you hate him from the start and want to see him get his (luckily, we do).  You see the effect his abuse has had on both Scarlet and Tella, and it makes you hate him even more.  That’s part of why Scarlet’s development is so amazing:  She escapes her Father’s control, by openly defying him, and it’s soooo amazing!
The supporting cast is all great.  I’m especially fond of Dante and Iko, but Legend is the perfect anti-hero, who by books end you still don’t really know anything about.  I hope the next book in the series explores the mystery of Legend a lot more, because seeing him in this book was interesting but made you want to see more.  No matter how big, or how small the cast member is in Caraval, they’re all wonderful to watch.

 

Writing

 

This is the one hit I’ll give the book. The writing tries to be whimsical with flowery pros, but all it does is frustrate the reader at points.  Scarlet feels her emotions attached to colors, which I thought was interesting in the beginning because I thought that would somehow link to the magic of Caraval.  But nope:  It’s just how she feels emotions, so throughout the entire book we get to read things like “The gray ash of disappointment” “the violet danger” “the emerald greed” and to me, it just felt like a lazy way to not have to actually explain to the reader what was going on in any detail.  Along with that, descriptions are made into vague pros like “Our kiss felt like the beginning of something and the start of something new”, “It tasted like midnight”, “her dress was periwinkle, the color of happy endings” and none of those things equate to anything in my mind other than vague, non-descript descriptors that are just there to try and make the book sound a lot more introspective than it actually is.  Would it be so hard just to say Scarlet tasted something, and it was spicy?  I don’t think so!  I know Garber was trying to have “The magic of Caraval” apparent through her pros, but really it just got annoying after reading through the 100th metaphor.  I really hope in her next book, she uses these in moderation and gives us a bit more of a grounded sounding narrative because there were so many times I just went “There’s no way I would even know what midnight would taste like because it’s not a sensation attached to taste”.  Using a completely opposite word to describe another sensory detail isn’t good writing, it’s just overly involved writing that’s distracting.

 

Julian had a “nickname” for Scarlet the entire book that was super annoying too.  Crimson.  Crimson?  That isn’t a nickname, it’s a synonym!  Once again, another thing thrown in that makes absolutely no sense and adds nothing but irritation to the narrative.
But I will say:  I freaking adore how every one of Scarlet’s dresses were described.  That was perfectly done.  I could totally picture each gown, and ugh it just made the fashionista in me squeal:  all so pretty!

 

Overall/Final Thoughts

 

In the end, I loooooved this book.  It’s a great tale of two sisters who love each other so much, that they fight to keep the other safe in their own way.  It’s also a tale of two abused young women fighting to come into their own, and be free of their Father, both in very different ways.  The backdrop is the magical game that is Caraval, full of magic and secrets, and secrets and magic!  But in all seriousness, this is a really great first book in a series.  If you’re ok with a good magical mystery, wrapped in romance, and fantasy, pick up this book.  As long as you’re willing to turn your brain off for a while and just enjoy the ride.

 

The epilogue is pretty clear in the character who we’ll be following in the next book, and I really can’t wait to read it!

 

To me the mark of a good book is a book that has you thinking about it days after you’ve read it.  Thinking about what parts in the book now make sense after getting to the end, how the characters will be in the next book, things like that.  I’m still thinking about Caraval days after I read it, and finishing it left a really good feeling for me.  So despite any flaws I see in this book, or any discrepancies’ I have with the writing, I think Caraval is an amazing story that deserves to have been told.

 

Have you read Caraval?  Would love to hear your thoughts in the comment’s!

Books

Heartstrikers Book Series By Rachel Aaron Review

When you start a book you usually have one of these reactions:  You can’t put it down, you can’t wait to see what happens next, and if there’s another book in the series, you can’t wait to pick it up and continue the series.  For The Heartstrikers series of books, I had all three reactions every time I started reading, and finishing each of the books.  Sadly, the series isn’t over yet (ugh I need the fourth book so bad, think it’s coming out later this year) but I’m so happy I took a chance on this indi author.  Rachel Aaron is an amazing author, her writing style is so fun and captivating and her characters are just….ugh I love these books!  I wanted to hold off reviewing them individually, because really, each book would have just been me gushing about how much I loved them because they are all amazing.  I found Rachel Aaron through looking for books on Audible, and got recommended the first book in the series:  Nice Dragons Finish Last.  When I heard a preview, I not only fell in love with the audio book narrator, but with the authors voice.  Really quirky, fun world building and characters all around and…ugh I just love these  books so much!  But instead of gushing here, time to gush in the review!

PLOT

 

Julius Heartstriker is the only nice dragon in his clan and instead of making waves, he hides from his older, more aggressive siblings to stay out of trouble.  His Mother doesn’t tolerate this anymore and throws him out at the age of 24 into the DFZ  (Detroit Free Zone) and Julius has to figure out how to make it in the world with no money, no street smarts, and trying to avoid being killed in the DFZ because the DFZ is a no-dragons-allowed zone.  There’s a lot more to the series, but that’s the plot of the first book and more or less the series is Julius gets thrown into a situation and gets out of it by being himself, with the help of his BFF Marcy, mage extraordinaire.

WORLD BUILDING

 

I’ve complained in the past about fantasy worlds not having a concrete place they inhabit.  For example, does the story take place in a full fantasy world, or an alternate Earth.  The Heartstrikers series does a wonderful job of both showing, and telling us the world we’re in.  A meteor hit the Earth about a hundred years before our story started, bringing magic back into the world.  Along with magic, we got the reawakening of spirits, dragons, and human mages and they’re all getting used to magic being back in the world.    The series is clearly an urban fantasy dystopia (I know it sounds weird, but it totally works) set in our world.  How can you tell it’s in our Earth’s timeline?  There are super high tech magic-technology phones in use, along with self-driving cars and GPS.  Not only that, but we get characters referencing things like Batman, Super Mario, Star Wars, and a lot of other pop culture references that would be archived in the databases of a post-magic-tech Earth.  Does the narrative tell me that?  Not at all:  but because of how rich the world building is, and how intricate the showing, and telling the world building we see in the books, I can deduce that without even having to be told that somewhere in the narrative.

The magic system is really interesting, and makes tons of sense.  There are different magic systems for how humans, dragons, and spirits use magic and even when it’s being explained (it’s explained a lot through the series, it’s a major over arching plot point) never was I confused.  I read that in the third book the human system of magic confused a few people, but it made perfect sense to me.  And, how the dragons overall work is just really great!  I’ve never read dragon fiction before, but in this series, dragons have a human form and a dragon form and it’s just so fascinating and adds so much to the story.
So yeah, all in all, the best world building I’ve read in a modern fantasy series.  I’m not huge into urban fantasy, and wasn’t aware this was going to be one when reading, but it’s so great.

CHARACTERS


 

They’re all perfect~

Ok to go into more detail every character is really fleshed out, human, and interesting.  Even the side characters, even the characters that you know are there just to be offed later.  Any important player in the story is very human, very real, and very loveable.  If they aren’t lovable, you understand their motives and are able to sympathize with them to a degree.  I adore Marcy, who is Julius’ best friend/love interest, and all of Julius’ siblings we see (he has a lot of them, his Mother gets busy) wind up having wonderful storylines and plot motivations and by the third book we see something big is coming together, and I can’t wait to see how it will end for our characters.

WRITING

 

I mentioned this in my opening paragraph, but the writing is what got me wanting to read this series.  It’s like reading a sit com, but a really good sit com!  Whitty dialogue, great descriptors, really good pacing.  All around just an amazing job from Rachel Aaron.

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

The Heartstrikers series ventures to answer this question:  Can a genuinely nice person succeed in a world filled with power hungry, aggressive people, and still stay true to himself and his ideals?  Will doing so change his surroundings for the better?  Along with that, we have plotting dragons, humans and spirits just trying to survive, and the magical future of the world coming to a head.  When you think someone is “the villain” you find out their motivations, and realize what they’re trying to do may not be so bad.  It’s a book series about humanity at its core, what drives us to do things, what makes us stay true to ourselves, and how someone we’ve met by chance (or perhaps by fate dun dun dun) can affect us, for better or worse.
nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished are all amazing reads.  I think there are one or two books left in the series that aren’t out yet –shakes fist- but I anxiously await the next installment of the series because ugh this is so good!  I haven’t been this invested in a book series in a very long time.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do!  If you have read it, I’d love to talk about it in the comments!