First I want to say there is a lot of potential here. Great ideas and creativity in Caraval. But it just wasn't quite up to my expectations or standards.
Essentially Caraval will make a stunning movie if put into the hands of the right studio and given a proper budget. Without a doubt it's a beautiful world that Stephanie Garber has presented to us. The magic, tone and use of colour will come across nicely on the silver screen.
<i>So why doesn't this work so well as book? </i>
Let's start with this, 3 stars does not mean the book was bad to me. It just means it could be improved (a lot) and that at a number of moments I was annoyed or frustrated with it but the overall plot and characters are solid.
<b>In Caraval I have two major complaints: </b>
1) The constant descriptions of smells (using colours), and ongoing, repetitive descriptions with little imagination. The actual things being described were beautiful but how it was written bugged me a lot.
2) Magic needs rules. In order for a twist in a book to be truly shocking or worthy the readers need to feel like they know what's happening and when they are instead told something else have it stuck out as obviously the real truth.
Throughout Caraval we are reminded that it's not all real. But with no mechanism to even begin to figure out what is real, it's frustrating to start formulating theories. I like it when I understand the rules of the magic or world and can feel like I have a sense of the twist. Whether I'm right or wrong at the end; so long as it's not a cheap twist, is okay because at least I felt invested in the story. In Caraval all I knew the whole book was something wasn't right and after awhile I was bored and wanted to get to the twist because I felt like anything could be true. This took away any true investment in the story and characters for me.
Some spoiler-y ranting... don't read below if don't want to have twist revealed.
Why is the issue of the real Count never addressed? Was there one? Where is he? Isn't he expecting a wedding?
Does Legend just have an everlasting amount of money that he keeps his actors employed all year around? What do they all do when it's not Caraval?
If Julian is Legends brother (btw not shocking at all) how come Legend is so much more 'special'? I realize this story is likely being reserved for future novels (which is okay) but I felt that this reveal should have meant more than it did.
Almost all magic in any world doesn't allow for people to come back from the dead exactly as they were before... of all the 'magical' things in this book I am bothered by this the most.
Also there was zero reason to need to kill Dante, could just have had him make-up'd as dead. The whole concept of aging and mortality is a large factor in my lower rating of Caraval. It's just not realistic enough (okay I know your laughing, realistic magic? --but the reality is that we can accept a lot of things as magical; generally coming back from the dead isn't one of them).
<I>Will I read the second book?</I>
I'm not sure... if it sticks with me maybe. But if I can barely remember the players and story in 6 months then possibly not.