I remember when Caraval first came out, with all the special edition hardback covers, and I also remember that absolute scramble of people to get them. People saying that we hadn’t reserved the right edition, even though all the editions had exactly the same ISBN. I’m all for excitement around new books, but I’m the kind of person that likes to either read a book before the hype hits or a long time after so my opinions can’t be swayed by people shouting theirs louder.
I never originally intended to ever read Caraval. It was an accident, really. We’d popped to Tesco on the way home from Christmas shopping and I knew that we were probably going to be snowed in for the rest of the weekend. Obviously of all the thousands of books I owned I knew that none of them would be quite the one for a snow day. If you’ve never looked at the books in a supermarket they’re all pretty much crime thrillers, and Caraval seemed to be the only book that was a bit different.
Caraval is set in an alternate world, which somewhat resembles Victorian Britain. It has all the beginnings of a Disney movie; Mother has disappeared, turning Father into an abusive Villain, leaving the two sisters to look out for each other. Scarlet, the older sister, is the main character, and when she is finally invited to take part in the Caravel games, it seems like she would be too timid to make it. Her younger sister Tella is the rebellious one, and when Scarlett finally makes it to Legend’s island, Tella is nowhere to be found.
Initially I was really unsure about Scarlett’s character. She seems so easy about her potential arranged marriage to the Count that when Julian even comes near her she’s quick to remind him that she’s engaged. Again, that 19th Century idea of virtue and a woman’s place was a little infuriating. If I was being kind to the book I would say that it is setting up traditional gender and familial roles in order to reflect the attitudes of a lot of the fairytales it’s inspired by but I’m not completely sold on that. I found that there was an incessant need for Scarlett to have a love interest. There’s actually no real need for her to fall in love with anyone, especially because of supposedly being crazy over not being able to find her sister.