By Paola

Since I went on a rant here I thought it would just be a good idea to make this its own post, instead of having a super long post with 3 chapters.

So we open up with Scarlett wondering where the hell her sister could have gone- there are no footprints and no one to be seen on the beach.

Oh, did I mention it was a snowy beach? Yeah, despite the fact that Julian told us earlier that they were close to the Southern Empire and that it was established to be summer before. And didn’t Scarlett describe the island as lush and green? That doesn’t seem like a snowy climate to me, but I guess I just don’t  know how magical islands works.

The snow beneath her toes and the wet fabric clinging to her icy skin left her colder than she had been the night her father made her sleep outside after he discovered Tella had kissed her first boy.

Book. I know Scarlett’s dad is horrible and that Tella likes to do dangerous things like go off with boys and get her sister kidnapped. This is not new information, and you’re not being very good about bringing it up.

Julian is being our typical asshat, and is also seemingly unaffected by the cold despite being shirtless.

“When I dropped your sister off, she was dry. She had on a coat and gloves…”

But you didn’t bring any on your boat for you and Scarlett why?

And we get magical trees that weren’t there before! Conveniently mentioned after Julian pointed them out too, I might add.

I’ve seen reviews of this book that say Scarlett is a boring character who does nothing, but I think that’s not the problem. I’ve talked before about female agency, and how even in a book that is pretty highly regarded, it doesn’t mean that the female character actually has any say in their decisions. I think that’s the case here-Scarlett wants to do a thing, but the book doesn’t care because it already has a set path for her. Even getting to the island- she wanted to, she told Julian to take her, but it didn’t really matter if she had wanted to go or not because the boat she was on sunk. And when you have a narrative that ignores the choices of the protagonist, of course your characters are going to look bland and passive.

And in Julian’s case, they’re going to look manipulative because they’re a mouthpiece for the narrative, not an actual character.

Julian’s arm wrapped around Scarlett’s shoulders.

She stiffened.

His dark brows formed an offended line. “I’m just trying to keep you warm.”

Yes Julian, your noble efforts to keep her warm are more important than a girl putting up boundaries.

They stumble into a very pretty but very abandoned village, which stretches onto the distance. They only have till the end of the day to enter Caraval, but it looks like they might not make it.

Oh, and he’s still calling her Crimson, by the way.

They walk through the village, and a shop catches Scarlett’s eye:

There were bowler hats covered in taxidermy crows. Parasol holsters. Women’s headbands studded with human teeth. Mirrors that could reflect the darkness in a person’s soul.

Oh cool, I didn’t know here was a Hot Topic on this island.

The rest of the shops are pretty much the same:

The following row of abandoned shops boasted a series of fantastical things. Fallen Stars. Seeds to grow wishes. Odette’s Ocular sold eyeglasses that saw the future (Available in four colors.) “Those would be nice” Scarlett muttered.

In all seriousness, it’s just pretty imagery that “whimsical” without much substance. How do we know that the mirror reflects the darkness in a person’s soul, unless it were an item already established in that universe? Why does Scarlett know what a parasol holster looks like? Are there even guns in this universe, and if so how common are they? The problem with this is that I have no idea what limitations there are for magic or technology in this world. We got a brief glimpse of it through a story, but those were some very vague limitations and I have no idea why I should care that these things exist or are being sold, especially when, going by the amount of purple prose the author likes to throw in, I’m pretty sure they’re just set decorations and not going to be brought up again. Which sucks, because those seeds to grow wishes would probably be as invaluable as tickets to Caraval, easier to sell, and solve all of the problems for Tella and Scarlett.

Also, it feels like a cheap imitation of The Night Circus, which is the worst. The Night Circus was fantastic, and part of why it was so mesmerizing was that every detail played a part in the larger story- They were displays of magic in a competitive environment, reflections of the main character’s personalities, and a way to help them communicate. Not so much here.

Scarlett finds a shop filled with clockwork that also has a lit fireplace inside. She goes in to get warm,  and here we have the first words out of Julian’s mouth:

Julian pulled the grate away and stoked the logs with a nearby poker. “We should get out of our clothes.”

Look, having your male POC character who had already been described as dangerous, is hypersexualized, and has made physical gestures that make Scarlett uncomfortable make suggestive comments like this is not good representation. Even if you mean it in a bad boy, sexy kind of light- one, what are you teaching girls here? That if a boy is dangerous and disregards your comfort it means he’s sexy and you should like him? Two, what are you teaching your male readers here, particularly your POC male readers? That this reflects what POC boys act like in the real world? That if they’re not this guy they won’t get with the girl that they like?

I’m really angry about Julian and his portrayal, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Once again, Julian finds something- this time two sets of boots and garments. There’s also a note from Legend, saying that he’s excited that she and her companion were able to make it. Notice how he sent 3 tickets but in this note knows that there was only one other person with Scarlett.

They change, there’s banter about how Julian is so handsome and roguish yet infuriating, and then just as they’re about to exit another man tells them they probably shouldn’t go that way.