Updated: Dec 20, 2021
Imagine your biggest dream is finally coming true. You are getting your hearts' deepest desire...more than that: you are getting more than one of your deepest desires. And then all of a sudden the person closest to you goes missing.
For Scarlett, that dream is escaping the island she's been trapped on for years by her abusive father and attending the mysterious Caraval games. But when her sister Tella, the person she loves most in the world, goes missing, she has to make decisions between her deepest desire and most profound love.
I have heard a lot about this series. From the series being posted by some of the book accounts I follow to close friends reading and enjoying it, Caraval seemed to be popping up everywhere so it was only right that I read it for myself and give my own opinion as to whether or not the book series is good.
To be totally honest, though, after reading the series, I am still confused as to whether or not I like the series!
Actually, to be fair, that's not entirely true. I liked the series well enough and would put the books on my shelf and even recommend them to others. And yet, I am confused about my feelings on the books in general. I have avoided writing this post for quite some time because I simply do not know what to write (so we will see where my fingers on the keyboard guide me). Most often, when I read a series, I either read the first book and give my impression of the first book or I read the entire series and begin to write my review once I feel I have read enough of the final book to know what I want to say about the series.
I finished the last book of the series (Finale) two days ago and still have not begun my blog post on the series, simply putting it off as if doing so might give me some idea of what to write about. It hasn't.
I should say, before I go into what I am confused about, that I did enjoy the books. I read the three books in just over a week and at no point did I feel I was pushing myself to read through them faster. The books (in general) have a good plotline (though at some points it gets a little hazy). In particular, the basis for the second and third books is exciting and really made me want to read more to know what would happen to the characters. The world that the books are set in is at times a little confusing but the magical elements are so fun. The magic of Caraval in the first book by the same name is particularly enjoyable to read because the author has set it up so that, in some sense, magic has no limits because it's all a game. The way she writes it, the characters' minds are messed with over and over again so if laws of magic (which are more thoroughly explained in later books) are broken in this book, it can be explained away as "all in the character's head." The books are whimsical and exciting but also dark and adventurous. Almost as if Alice in Wonderland was written for adults. I liked these things about the book and I enjoyed the character of Tessa and Julian (I could have fallen for Julian).
There were definitely some things I didn't like about the book. The change of POV from the first book to the second for example. The first book is seen from Scarlet's point of view as she tries to rescue Tessa from Legend. The second is seen from Tessa's point of view as she settles a debt and rescues her mother. The third is from both points of view as the story is wrapped up. In some sense, I see what the author was trying to do here. After all, my own books do something similar as each of the first six books are from one person's point of view as the story of their past is told and the story of their present is laid out. In the final book, all six points of view will be present as the story is wrapped up. I have seen other books that do this as well. However, I do not feel that Caraval did it well. Perhaps it was because Caraval had only three books and two characters to work with thus making it more difficult to create a pattern. Perhaps it was simply that the effect was not pulled off correctly. Whatever it was, because the author chose to do it this way, the first book appeared not to be a part of the same storyline as the other two. It was almost like a prequel as opposed to a part of a trilogy. While the third book carries on the story started in the second book, the second book has only minimal ties to the first book's story like a series would to a prequel rather than to the first book. I didn't love this.
There were also things I was confused about my feelings on. For instance: Scarlet's ability to see feelings in color. This ability is described in the third book (though I won't discuss it further so as not to spoil it for you) however, it first appears in the first book. It seems to the reader that Scarlet may have synesthesia (in this case, her visual pathway is activated at the same time as her feelings are). However, the neurological condition is not common, and giving it to Scarlet without explaining it would have been a bad choice on the author's part. I also do not know if the way that Scarlet sees emotions (and only emotions) in color would have been a way the condition played out. Scarlet does not have this condition (I tell you this because I needed to be told this but was too scared to look it up for fear of spoilers) but the author doesn't tell you that or explain why Scarlet sees these colors until the third book which can be frustrating. I liked the general idea behind it though, I liked where she took the plot with it, and I did like seeing the emotions in colors.
The other main thing I didn't know how to feel about was the endings. Almost every ending seemed strange to me. The plotlines of the book were great right up until the endings of the book which were strange. I couldn't tell you what about them seemed strange but something about them just seemed... off. It was almost like the ending for a different book had been inserted into this one and it only sort of fit. The endings were satisfying enough but something in me (maybe the author in me) was confused at the endings and questioned why they weren't as good as the rest of the book (or better as endings usually are) and why they didn't fit well.
That was my general sense of the Caraval trilogy. It was good but could have been better. I enjoyed it but was confused as well. Read it and decide for yourself what you think about this trilogy of magical books.