By Paola

In the grand tradition of my icons Snarktheater and Readingwithavengence, this is the start of a book snark! For those not in the know, this is where I come to make fun of critique books in a more detailed, line-by line manner. It’s usually per chapter, but since Caraval’s chapters are so short, I’m going to post several chapters at once.

Obvious spoiler warning, by the way.

It took seven years to get the letter right.

Well, no. It took 7 years for anyone to reply, which kind of makes them seem like contradictory assholes when you finally send a letter telling them not to come and perform at your town.

It’s actually kind of a cool opening. We see letters written by Scarlett, our protagonist, through several years. It might be a ploy to get quick backstory and character development, but I’ll take it for now.

She goes to show the letter to her sister, Tella, only to find her hitting the hay, if you know what I mean, with a young sailor, Julian, who of course is a super gorgeous, flirty scoundrel. Oh, and exotic too:

The sailor spoke with a lilting Southern Empire accent, far smoother-sounding than the sharp Meridian Empire tongues Scarlett is accustomed to.

Julian had only been on the Ilse of Trisda about a month. When he’d swaggered off his ship, tall and handsome, with golden-brown skin, he’d drawn almost every woman’s eye. Even Scarlett’s head had turned briefly, but she’d known better than to look any longer.

Yay for the not at all harmful latin lover trope! And a special mention of Scarlett, who is totally not like the other women in the Ilse, guys.

Anyways, Tella gets berated because she might get caught by their father, and pulls out this gem.

“If Father catches us, I’ll just find a way to blame it on you.” Tella gave a tart smile.

Ah, healthy sibling relationship I see.

Scarlett reveals that it’s a letter from the master of Caraval, and Tella becomes super enthusiastic. It turns out there are 3 tickets, one for Tella, one for Scarlett, and one that can be for anyone. The tickets state they have to be at an island they’ve never heard of in 3 days, which means that they’ll miss Scarlett’s upcoming wedding to a Duke. While Tella seems perfectly content with letting her sister miss an opportunity to marry up the ranks, Scarlett is less enthused. Either way, they can’t go because they have no idea how to get to this mysterious island.

Guess who does, thought! And who has been eavesdropping the whole time! Yep, it’s our Spicy Latin Lover ™, Julian. With a little added racism, for fun:

Tella’s words about people who’d kill for the tickets echoed in Scarlett’s mind. Julian might have had a charming face, but he also had that Southern Empire accent, and everyone knew the Southern Empire was a lawless place.

Still, Scarlett isn’t convinced. She reflects on the fact that while her grandmother told pretty stories about how magical Caraval was, it might just be that-stories, and with so much on the line for her and her sister, it might not be worth running off to a private island with a guy they’ve known for less than 2 weeks.

Tella, of course, disagrees, but doesn’t get a chance to elaborate because their father, Governor Dragna, appears with guards.

Tella throws Scarlett under the bus by having Julian say he was here with her, and  it turns out that this wonderfully abusive father’s choice of punishment is to beat the other sister. He hits Tella hard enough so she bleeds, and then states that Scarlett’s wedding will be in ten days and that if anything interferes with that then Tella will probably die.

Which just makes me wonder why not tell the truth? He’s not likely to hit Scarlett that hard, not if he wants the bruises to fade by the time of the wedding. Even Scarlett says this, afterwards. And wouldn’t you want to show off your other daughter to eligible suitors at the wedding anyways? So why give her bruises in the most noticeable place? And why not punish the guy who was with your daughter in the first place, as a deterrent to others?

Also, we learn that Julian’s last name is Marrero, which literally translates to “sailor” *facepalm*.

Julian is, understandably, shocked by all this.  He offers to take them for free on his ship, which leaves the next night, and leaves.

Scarlett wants to stay because she argues that it will be worse for them when they return, but Tella says she was never planning on returning anyways, and then mocks Scarlett for thinking that her marriage to the Duke will keep them safe from their father, because only a horrible person would make a bargain with their dad, apparently.

I mean, maybe it’s not the best exit strategy, but I think it’s a little more stable than running off to a mysterious island with a guy you barely know? Plus, he’s already promised to help keep Tella safe, which is more than he needs to do.

It should be noted that their father is playing games with them (Why? What purpose besides being an obvious villain could this serve?!?), and not telling Scarlett the identity of the Duke-as in, he’s made sure the letters she receives have no seal and have the bottom part with the signatures ripped off.

We get more repetition of what we already know-Scarlett can’t jeopardize this marriage, Tella will literally die if she doesn’t leave, their father is a horrible monster with no redeeming qualities, ect. Tella runs off and Scarlett loses sight of her, but ends up at a church confessional, where she gets the priest to deliver a note to a mysterious person, asking to meet at an hour past midnight on a nearby beach.