Caraval (Dutch title: Het zwarte hart)
Luitingh Sijthoff (9789024571048)
I had a discussion with the Dutch publisher on posting critique on social media sites about their choices for this book. I did this because they weren’t answering my mails. Nor were they answering the questions posted on my social media accounts, by the way. I did get a phone call today at work that left me feeling steamrolled. Basically, I was called a bitch for voicing my opinion on social media: because I am a bookseller, it was seen as a betrayal. But sorry: I am a reader and YA-lover first and foremost, bookseller second.
In a nutshell: both title and cover are very different from the English release, and I think they are forgetting the fact that Dutch readers follow English-based accounts and websites, doing their research on English releases and then waiting for the according Dutch translation. If there is no link, how do they know? You discard the ready-made readers handed to you because you don’t inform them, and start from scratch. The world is bigger than your own country, even if you only expect sales there. Below is the Dutch cover: be sure to get it if you’re a Dutchie!
The book is said to be for fans of The Night Circus, and I cannot tell you if it is, because I still have to read that book. (It’s written in present tense, I find that really hard.) But it does have this circus/carnaval vibe, which of course is exactly what Stephanie Garber is going for. A magical world in which magic can just as easily turn out to be nothing but illusion – it’s all locked in the not-knowing.
That is what this book is about. You get warned beforehand that you cannot believe anything you see, because it is a game. Nothing may be real, but if you get too carried away, people may still die as a result. And it may even be you. This book is about a game that is not really a game but then again, maybe is. And so is the writing. It is not only true for the story, it is also very much true for the storytelling. Stephanie Garber weaves this web of illusion and we as readers don’t even know what is real and what is not. We get played as much as Scarlett does, and there are quite a few twists and turns that left me jumping up and down.
The book is a roller coaster ride. It is gorgeous in setting (I can’t wait for a movie, all the costumes will be amazing), wel written and with an intricate plot that never dulls. You will find yourself constantly searching to find the truth behind what may or may not be an illusion. What is real? Are the people who they say they are, and which of them can you actually trust? And just when you think you have it figured out, something happens that once again may be part of the game, or maybe you are deviating from the game to uncover some truth in corridors not meant for your eyes. The beauty of our lead character Scarlett is that she has led her life believing she must always stay on the path, but that does not win you back your sister.
I consider this book to lean more heavily on the side of mystery and fast-paced events, than it is on character development. Whenever we see multiple layers to a person, it is in service to upholding the mystery. That is not to say that without it, a character would fall flat. You can just see that this is the direction in which Stephanie Garber’s creativity flows. As an example, Scarlett goes from an extremely guarded girl to someone who realises she must take chances in order to live her life, but she doesn’t take them because she realises she wants to live her life that way. She takes the chances because if she does, the possibility of her finding her sister before the end of Caraval increases.
It is sometimes a little bit too light on the interpersonal relationships. I would have liked more confrontation between Scarlett and her sister. Scarlett comes to accept some things about Tella that are not exactly nice, and maybe that is true, or maybe it is more complicated than that, but we don’t get to see that. Yet, I must add. There is obviously more coming and probably from a different character perspective, so I don’t think the last is said about it. I also think that we gloss too quickly over some betrayals Scarlett has had to face during the final party, but again, this might just be because it will be addressed in the next book.
One of the best parts of Caraval is that it is truly fast-paced. Lucky for those of us who have to wait at least another year for the next novel, the story pretty much wraps itself up here. There is much left to explore, but it is going to go in some other, yet unfound direction and I really like that. It gives me the idea that the world of Caraval continues even when it is not performing. There are also a lot of mysteries I would still love to explore, and I think that getting into a fresh storyline, from perhaps a different character’s perspective, will add to the creativity that this book and future series has to offer.
For those of you who are still waiting for the English release in 2017: do keep an eye out for this book. It really is worth your trouble, and a beautiful read. I was immersed in it, I couldn’t read it fast enough, and yet there is so much descriptive detail that I could see it unfolding in my mind like a gorgeous movie. Keep it on your must-read release list!