Or is it? Because Scarlett is beginning to wonder.
It starts with an invitation - a reply to Scarlett's numerous letters to the game's master, the mysterious Legend - but things quickly begin to escalate.
And now, Scarlett must find her sister, Tella, before it's too late...
...Remember, it's only a game.
Plus there's enough twists and turns here to keep even the most battle-weary reader guessing.
No sooner do you think you've figured it out, than everything is turned on it's head again. And that's pretty cool.
We have people of colour (PoC) characters in this book - which is a plus.
They are also just as complex and morally ambiguous (good, bad-ish, and indifferent,) as everyone else - another plus.
One PoC character, Julian, who is described as brown-skinned and has a Spanish-sounding last name, is the love interest/one of the main secondary characters - yet another plus!
BUT, there are a couple of issues with the diverse rep in this book - see next section.
One of the most definitive things I can say about this book is that it's just... ok. Not great. Not awful. Just... meh.
Now, given the amount of hype around this book, people will be expecting something special... and I can't tell you that it delivers.
Because, while enjoyable, it's not the 'wow' that many people will be looking for.
Some of the characters are also a little irritating.
Scarlett can be a little dim/frustrating, and I honestly would've debated whether or not to actually rescue Tella. But then, family's family.
Also, Scarlett sees colours sometimes for emotions - but this is a comes-and-goes sort of event, and seems completely inconsistent.
It's also never made clear whether this is metaphorical, magical, or some form of synaesthesia.
He's an out and out villain. He's also queer coded.
This means that, without it ever being explicitly mentioned that he is gay, or anything other than allo-cishet, signifiers are given that he is stereotypically, (and negatively,) effeminate.
- He's portrayed as vain: overly-concerned with his clothing, and his looks.
- Dragna wears perfume, and it's from this floral scent that Scarlett detects his presence before he arrives in a scene.
- A lot is made of this scent - it's described as a sickeningly sweet sort of smell, and it makes Scarlett feel nauseous.
Queer coding isn't OK - it stereotypes men who have more 'feminine' traits, as somehow inherently bad, or evil.
This forms the trope of the Sissy Villain, and compounds 'flaming'/camp stereotypes, as well as the idea that LGBTQ+ people are somehow inherently bad.
Issues with PoC rep
If any PoC reviewers/bloggers/internet-people have written about the PoC aspects of this book, please let me know - I'd love to link to it.
I also felt like maybe Julian's race was a bit... undeveloped...? Understated...? Unexplored...? I'm not sure which word works better.
It wasn't spot-on guys, there was something amiss... like you could've swapped in a white character with little-to-no effort.
It took me a while to figure out whether Julian even was PoC - for a long time he was just described as tan, or as olive-skinned.
Since both of these terms have been used fairly regularly to describe me, and I'm white, they're pretty inconclusive as descriptions.
It was only when he was described as brown-skinned, several chapters after we first meet him, that I was sure.
But, for me, Caraval just wasn't quite up to scratch.
Yeah, I enjoyed reading it but... *shrugs* meh.
Caraval... *shrugs* meh. Click to Tweet.
UPDATE 16th May: Jen @ The Book Avid also makes some important points related to the depictions of suicide, sexual assault, and abuse in this book.
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