Caraval Trilogy Review
Updated: Oct 1, 2022
Welcome, welcome to my Caraval trilogy review! I'm sure you've seen the hype around this series online, and much of it is well-earned.
For those unfamiliar with the premise, the Caraval trilogy is an atmospheric fantasy about two sisters, an annual week-long magical competition, and the consequences of playing this carnival-esque game.
Genre: YA Romantasy
Category: Cozy Read
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RATING: 3.5/5 Stars
Plot: 3.5/5 stars
Characters: 3.5/5 stars
World: 4/5 stars
Scarlett and Donatella Dragna live on the tiny island of Trisda with their abusive, corrupt father. Scarlett hopes her approaching arranged marriage will save them both from Trisda and their father. But her real dream has always been to receive an invitation for Caraval Master Legend's annual event, to see its magic with her own eyes. One week before her wedding, tickets for her and Tella show up.
Initially, this is a dream come true for Scarlett; but by the time they've arrived on Legend's island, Tella has disappeared—and this year's challenge is to follow clues and find Tella before someone else does. If she does, she'll not only be reunited with her sister, but she'll also be rewarded with one wish.
Scarlett is warned multiple times that "it's just a game" and to not let herself get swept away, but those in charge of the game go to great lengths to ensure she does. The longer she plays the game, the less sure she is of what's real and who she can trust.
While the big reveal at the end of Caraval is clever, I wasn't a huge fan. The first time I read this book (years ago), I hated it. After rereading, I’ve warmed up to it slightly and decided to carry on with the series.
Legendary follows Donatella as she plays the next game; a special event held at the capitol in celebration of the Empress's birthday. I was excited for Tella's POV since she's so different from her sister; I wanted to see what her game would be like and how she would handle it.
But despite Tella learning this game is different—it's very real, and her life is not the only thing on the line if she doesn't win—Legendary reuses the same elements and tropes as its predecessor: the FMC is forced to play the game to save a beloved family member, gets stuck fake-dating a guy she’s both attracted to and disgusted by, receives mysterious gifts/special garments, and has very convenient tunnels hidden in her rooms. This made Legendary predictable, so the pacing felt slow as I waited for Tella to catch on to what I'd already pieced together, and the climax wasn't all that exciting.
Finale is a dual-POV that sees the sisters dealing with the fallout from their decisions while playing their respective games, figuring out their relationships with the men they teamed up with, and confronting their fears as well as an antagonist.
While the story is about the sisters playing the game, it's also about the unbreakable bond between them, living verses surviving, and love being both a strength and a weakness—a weapon and a gift.
I didn’t love Garber’s writing, but I didn’t hate it either. It got repetitive at times; she uses the exact wording each time she describes the Caraval symbol, which got old. It's the same with other things, like Governor Dragna's scent, and I wish she'd gotten more creative. I also didn't like how she'd reveal some things through dialogue, then explain it through narration as if the reader needs it spelled out for them. Sometimes, details didn't match what was said in a previous installment. At one point, a character uses a foreign word “again,” and one person wonders why they keep using that word…but it only shows up once in the text.
That said, the series was fun to read. There were moments I questioned everything along with the sisters. Garber supplies a few brilliant twists, and I like how there didn't seem to be a major villain in the first book; Scarlett was just playing against the game and well-intentioned schemes.
While I didn't fall in love with any of the characters, I didn't have much against them. There were times the sisters' voices weren't all that different from one another (maybe because they learned so much from each other and grew to be more similar?), and the characters felt two-dimensional at times, but I didn't hate them.
I did appreciate the character arcs, though they weren't epic. Scarlett learns to be more trusting, brave, adventurous, and assertive in her desires. Tella learns to be more open and loving like her older sister. And they come to terms with an event that's haunted them since before the beginning of the story.
I also appreciated that Scarlett and Tella did not have to sacrifice their powers, desires, or humanity in the end.
There are a few morally grey/antihero-type men in this story, which I am always a sucker for, as well as an interesting cast of villains in the final story. There's a thief called Paradise whose character I was really interested in and wished had more page-time.
This may be nit-picky, but one thing that bothered me was how Julian always calls Scarlett "Crimson" but it's never explained—the why, how it came about, etc. She just rolls with it, even though she's brunette and has no ties to the color.
The only other complaint I have is a personal opinion that you may not share, but explaining would give away one mystery in the story; if you don't want to have anything spoiled, you might want to skip to the next section.
Anyway, I am not a fan of romances where one set of siblings couples up with another pair of siblings. I'm not sure why; it just is what it is.
The world of Caraval is certainly magical and full of excitement. It almost reminds me of Wonderland—a nonsensical world where anything can happen, things aren't always as they seem, riddles and wordplay are used frequently, and the FMCs encounter a mercurial, mysterious man in a top hat.
The visuals are enchanting, and I can see how participants would get swept away by the magic permeating every aspect of the environment and game.
Color plays an important role in Scarlett's story; she sees emotions tinted by various colors, and Donatella ascribes images to colors. Yet it isn't explored until halfway through the third book—then it's used as a plot point and part of Scarlett's growth.
Scarlett also has a magical dress that changes shape, texture, pattern, and color at a whim. And while that’s really cool, I questioned why it was the only thing she wore after she got it. Like, when do you wash the damn thing? Or does it clean itself? She does change a few times, but she's almost always wearing her enchanted gown.
As for Tella, much of her story revolves around a magical deck very similar to tarot. I won't say much so as not to give anything away, but I was definitely geeking over it.
The Caraval trilogy isn't perfect. The writing has weak moments, the story gets repetitive and predictable, and the characters could have more dimension, but the series still makes for a fun, cozy, read with a magical atmosphere. I would recommend it to fans of Wonderland, whimsical stories full of enchantment, and the following tropes: magical competitions, fake dating, enemies-to-lovers, forced proximity, and one bed.
Thanks for tuning into another Coffee, Book, and Candle review! Want to heat more about this series? Check out Jordan's review of the spinoff, Once Upon a Broken Heart. If you've read this series and want to chat about it, comment below or find us on bookstagram or Twitter!