Begone, Hype! // Mini Reviews: Caraval, The Star-Touched Queen, Flame in the Mist

Let’s start these mini reviews by a confession: I am approximately 15 reviews behind, and to catch up and get some of my sanity back, I need to divide my time and commitment unevenly, unfortunately. Over the course of the next few days, you can expect to see grouped mini reviews that follow some theme; in these reviews, I will review three books to the best of my ability. There are so many books that I’ve read that I feel need proper time and attention, so those are the ones that will get individual reviews (or groups of two, instead of three). Hopefully this way, I can catch up on my reviews while not completely ignoring them either.

Expectation is the root of all disappointment.

When you expect something from a book because a) you’ve heard people talking about it, b) the author has previously done really great work, and c) (because we’re all a little bit shallow), the cover is just really darn beautiful, so you automatically expect the content is too. And so, you get your hands on this book, and much to your dismay, it doesn’t live up to your expectations. That’s disappointing, and nothing bums me out quite as much as disliking a book that I thought I would like. In this post, I will get to three books that left me with low spirits and a heavy heart (because melodrama is my forté!)

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caraval

Caraval by Stephanie Garber // also known as, “No, seriously, why are you so popular?”

Rating:  🌟

Synopsis: Caraval follows the story of Scarlett and her sister Tella, who’ve always dreamed of playing the legendary, magical game of Caraval. Ever since they were young girls, their grandmother has told them stories about the Caraval master, the whimsy of the game, how the experience is unparalleled. The problem is that the game is incredibly exclusive – you can’t go unless you receive an invite. When Scarlett receives an invite after years of writing to the master of Caraval, she and Tella escape the clutches of their abusive, terrifying father with a companion in tow and flee to make the game.

What worked?

🍓 The first couple of chapters immediately grabbed my attention.

What didn’t work?

🍓 Important, serious issues are used as plot devices – Scarlett and Tella’s abusive by their father is only used as a launching point for them to go to CaravalThe abuse is shoved aside except for when you’re being reminded that the two are at Caraval to escape it. Suicide is used as a plot device in the most bizarre, offensive manner. The severe psychological repercussions on characters are pushed aside and overlooked.

🍓 Scarlett was a terrible heroine. Absolutely horrendous. She’s incredibly passive – she does very little by her own volition, but instead lets everyone guide her movements. She’s easily manipulated, and has no backbone. The result is an unreliable protagonist (and not in a good way), because you constantly doubt what she’s hearing and seeing, simply because you never know when the next person will come along and change her mind.

🍓 The writing style was strange and inconsistent; at times, Garber used metaphors in consecutive rotation, and at other times, it seems like the editor either a) went overboard, or b) didn’t look at the script at all. The book goes from purple prose to absolutely juvenile prose without any feeling constantly. The result is rather jarring.

🍓 Garber would have you believe that the sisterhood aspect of the novel is prominent, yet… it’s really not. Tella isn’t present in the majority of the book, and when Scarlett is thinking about her, it’s usually in the context of, “Oh, how can I possibly choose between my sister’s life, this boy I met two days ago, and making my arranged wedding on time?” If that’s the type of sisterhood that’s considered “close,” you can keep it.

giphy

🍓 I don’t know whether Garber was trying to achieve a constant twist-and-turns type of plot, but she consistently decided to change the motives of the characters, and the way the game is supposed to be played as she saw fit. The result is incredibly jarring. I got whiplash from the constant back-and-forth. It was naaaht a fun reading experience.

TRIGGER WARNING

Suicide; physical, emotional abuse; some self-harm.

BUY IT

Goodreads // Amazon

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star touched queen

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi // also known as, “Damn, you’re pretty but you’re such a mystery.”

Rating:  🌟🌟 1/2

SynopsisMaya has a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction; she’s known she’s cursed ever since she was a child, and so does everyone else in her life. When her father, the Raja, arranges for a political marriage to eradicate rebellions, Maya finds herself leaving home and the Queen of Akaran – a kingdom she’d never heard of before. Akaran is mysterious, but magical, with locked doors, empty halls, and impossible things. But her husband, Amar, is sweet, and kind, and she can almost find love in him, as long as he stops his constant secrets.

What worked?

🍓 The Indian lore incorporated into the narrative was done masterfully; from reincarnation to gods and goddesses, to cultural traditions and the pitfalls of the subcontinent’s history, to food and dress – the story is seeping with Indian culture. It’s delicious to read.

🍓 Roshani Chokshi is a skilled writer. I don’t particularly enjoy floral prose, but I can appreciate when it’s done well. She utilizes figurative language beautifully, and she structures her sentences so that they read more like a song than prose.

🍓 The world-building was vivid, albeit confusing, and that speaks more for Chokshi’s ability to write descriptively than it does anything else. From mysterious Night Bazaars to enchanted gardens and vulgar horses… there’s a lot in this book to devour.

What didn’t work?

🍓 First and foremost: the characters were an incredible let-down. There’s so much for us to absorb in the world-building that I felt Chokshi focused more on the characters’ surroundings than the characters themselves. The result was largely flat, one-dimensional people guiding the story. Maya was yet another passive character for the large part of the novel; she does very little of her own volition and allows herself to be manipulated. But I will say that this got better around the 50% mark.

🍓 The romance – there was little to no chemistry between Amar and Maya. It was hard for me to believe that despite Amar keeping so much from Maya, she still falls in love with him. I would have liked a slower burn build-up.

🍓 The world-building itself fell flat for me – it was descriptive, and I could picture most everything on the page, but the universe, its history and how the magic worked wasn’t given enough attention. Perhaps if the book was longer and more attention was given to the mechanics, I wouldn’t have been so confused.

🍓 I wanted to see more of Maya’s life before she is sent to Akaran.

BUY IT

Goodreads // Amazon

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DSC_0587

Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh // also known as, “Why couldn’t you be more like your older sibling?”

Rating:  🌟 🌟 1/2

Synopsis: Flame in the Mist follows the story of Mariko, the only daughter of a prominent samurai in feudal Japan who is on her way to the imperial palace to be married off in a political move. On the way, her party is ambushed by the Black Clan, and everyone is slaughtered. Mariko is able to get away, but finds herself in a deadly forest. Determined to discover why the Black Clan ambushed her carriage in a way so unlike them, she disguises herself as a boy and sets off to infiltrate their camp.

Note: this book is often marketed as a Mulan retelling, which it is not. For one, it is set in Japan and not China. Secondly, there are no similarities past the cross-dressing component.

What worked?

🍓 Mariko. She’s a wonderfully developed character with a strong sense of herself, her values, and what needs to be done to achieve her goals. She’s determined, and utilizes sharpness and wit to maneuver tricky situations. She’s a woman in a patriarchal society, so she starts off with a ton of internalized misogyny, but develops wonderfully by the end of the story. She’s also super sex-positive!

🍓 Kenshin (Mariko’s twin brother) and the love interest, Okami, were both well-developed characters as well. There are some POV chapters from Okami, though most of the book is told from Mariko and Kenshin’s perspectives, but I enjoyed these perspective-shifts and the flavor they brought to the story. I would’ve liked to see more of Mariko and Kenshin’s dynamic though.

🍓 The romance was very swoon-worthy, as Ahdieh’s romances are. Shazi and Khalid in her previous series are one of my ultimate OTPs, and Mariko and Okami made their way into my list too. They both complement and challenge each other well – their dynamic is hot-and-cold, but incredibly entertaining to see unfold.

🍓 Ahdieh is a wonderful writer; she writes with fluid grace, utilizing descriptives, dialogue and emotion very well. You mostly feel what she wants you to feel, and that’s the hallmark of a good writer.

What didn’t work?

🍓 I cannot speak for the Japanese representation since I am a) not Japanese, and b) not very familiar with the culture in the first place. But after having read a few reviews by Japanese readers, I now know that the representation is very appropriative and inaccurate. Ahdieh utilizes entertainment tropes, stereotypes, and poorly researched elements into the narrative. Here is an #OwnVoices review, and here’s another one.

🍓 While utilizing the “I disguised myself as a boy” trope, and as Okami forms a strong bond with her while he believes she is a boy, the book is very cis-normative, and there is absolutely no discussion of bisexuality. The first review linked above discusses both these issues as well, since the reviewer is Japanese, non-binary and bisexual. Do check out that review, please.

🍓 I simpy do not believe that Mariko formed a stronger bond with the Black Clan than she has with her twin brother, because the relationships (beyond the romance) aren’t developed well. You don’t get to see much interaction between Mariko and the rest of the Black Clan that gives you the sense that yes, she feels like she belongs there. This makes the climax a little… cold.

🍓 The launching point of the novel is basically the same as The Wrath & the DawnA girl seeks out for vengeance, infiltrates her enemy’s household under disguise and falls in love. It’s literally the same thing. The similarities were a little difficult for me to overlook, which ultimately made the book seem uninspired.

TRIGGER WARNING

Attempted assault; violence; misogyny.

BUY IT

Goodreads // Amazon

Comments

  1. I’m sorry you didn’t like Caraval, this book was pure magic to me but I get your point (even though I disagree about the sisterhood aspect).

  2. I’m so sorry that these books were a let down. I agree with your assessment of the Star-Touched Queen. The book had so much promise but the lack of character development left me feeling cold at the end. I felt like every secondary character, like Amar, was only there to further Maya’s arc.

    My excitement for Caraval has waned now and I’m glad that I ultimately gave this book a pass. I am not going to support a book that uses serious issues as plot devices. If you do take that route at least take the time to explore the psychological ramifications.

    I’ve still not read Flame in the Mist yet but I’ll be sure to go into that book with low expectations.

    • Exactly! I despise when characters seem to be props for the main character, nothing more. I’ve heard the companion, A Crown of Wishes, is much much better though, so I’m looking forward to reading that.

      I hope you enjoy Flame in the Mist more than I did, though, Lois! Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting!

  3. YES! Someone else who didn’t like Caraval! I do not understand the hype. I stopped reading about a third of the way in because Scarlett was annoying me way too much. The Star Touched Queen and Flame in the Mist is on my tbr list but I won’t be expecting as much now.

    • Honestly, I’m so surprised Caraval got the hype that it did! It was SO mediocre for me. I hope you enjoy both TSTQ and FITM more than I did, though, Shouni. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting!

  4. Haha, I totally agree!! I haven’t read Flame in the Mist yet, but I can’t imagine it actually living up to the hype it’s gotten.
    I personally loved Caraval just because of the reading experience, but I actually still agree on all your points, even though I liked it xD.
    The Star-Touched Queen was super underwhelming!! I’m still kind of annoyed at it, actually. Did you read A Crown of Wishes? It was actually pretty good!
    Awesome post :D!

    • I understand when you can see all the flaws but still like the book, bahaha. I, for one, know exactly how pretentious The Fault in Our Stars is but I still love it, no shame. I’m so glad you thought ACOW was better than TSTQ – that seems to be the general consensus, so I’m excited to give it a go. 😀

  5. I can totally see what you mean. Personally, I enjoyed all the books you talked about but they are not without their flaws, especially plot hole wise for all three. I enjoyed TSTQ mainly for the writing but it’s such a confusing story if I’m being honest. Caraval was ok but not all too memorable and it’s use of abuse and suicide as a plot device is just so shameful why don’t authors learn. And FITM I personally loved but I do think it wasn’t the best researched, nor did it address important topics. Thanks for your honesty Aimal and sorry to hear you didn’t love them!

    • I’m definitely still super excited for A Crown of Wishes because most everyone had said it was a big improvement from TSTQ. She’s such a talented writer; I definitely need to read more of her work. I definitely enjoyed FITM too. I loved the main characters, and I flew through it honestly. Thank you for stopping by, Anisha!

  6. Great reviews! This is very informative. I have only read Caraval and while I do agree with you about how problematic it was and how the plot made no sense, I did enjoy it because I read it all in one day. I feel like it doesn’t deserve the hype because it the book never explained itself and got away with it just because it was a carnival.

  7. Thanks for sharing these reviews! The Star-Touched Queen has been on my list for a while, but I think I’ll go into with a little less excitement to help cushion any disappointment. I’m mostly interested in checking out the Indian lore and how it’s expressed in the story. Never had an interest for Caraval and I hated The Flame for the exact reasons you’ve mentioned, mostly the appropriation. Reading your posts are always a delight! 😀 Happy reading, Aimal! ♥

    • Yeah, for TSTQ, most of my problems were technical – and those are always so subjective, so I would never NOT recommend the book. Plus, I’ve heard the second book was better, so I’m really stoked to give that a go. Thank you so much for stopping by, reading, and your kind words, Neha. Means a lot to me. <3

  8. Oh, I so understand being behind on reviews. I am MONTHS behind. Maybe I should consider doing these sort of mini reviews, too. As for Caraval, I’ve been wanting to read it for a long time but like you said, I have heard some issues about the treatment of serious issues and that really puts me off. And I haven’t heard of the Star Touched Queen before, but just the fact that it involves Indian lore makes me want to read it so badly. Awesome reviews!

    • UGH, I hope you catch up with your reviews! The mini reviews are really helping me out cut down the pending reviews I have to write. It’s also funny because I’ve noticed a boost in engagement when the reviews are in this format! TSTQ does a great job with Indian lore, so I hope you really love it if/when you get to it!

  9. I love these mini reviews. Though it makes me feel bad. I should read more then I would have enough material to write some myself! Haha. Goddamn Netflix skews my priorities.

    This was a very useful What Not to Read post for me. All of the things you’ve outlined: poor characterisation, cultural appropriation, weird inconsistent writing, etc, are things that make me throws books out windows. So thanks for saving me time and money 😉

    • Thank you so much, Lydia! I love writing the mini reviews – the format makes things fun for me. I feel you, though. Netflix and school take up ALL my time outside of the summer, so don’t feel too bad. Netflix is the demon on our shoulders we can’t stay away from. 😛 I’m glad my reviews helped narrow down your TBR, though. Thank you so much for reading and stopping by!

  10. Oh no I’m so sorry to see you didn’t enjoy these books Aimal. All three of these are five-star favourite books of mine so i may be a little guilty of throwing more hype out there for them, but we can’t all like the same things can we?
    I’m glad there were still parts of each you enjoyed, even if in Caraval it was only the first few chapters that grabbed your attentions. Also when it comes to The Star-Touched Queen I’m really glad to see you loved the world-building. That was one of my favourite parts of that book, and it was probably part of the reason I loved the story so much as well because it was full of magic. 🙂
    I really hope the next few books you pick up are better reads for you, and good luck getting through your reviews as well! 😀 <3

    • Oh gosh 😭 Don’t be guilty! We like what we like, and I’m generally a harsh rater in the first place, so I’m sure it’s me LOL. I loved Chokshi’s world-building and her writing was so beautiful, so I’m still excited to read A Crown of Wishes, especially because I’ve heard it’s better. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting, Beth!

      • I feel like I tend to be a generous rater, but I know my reviews have become a little more critical since I started blogging so I feel I’m developing as a writer. 🙂
        Oh that is good to hear, hopefully A Crown of Wishes will be better for you then Aimal, and that’s all right! 😀

  11. I also thought Caraval was way over-hyped. It was made out to be the most unique, original, creative thing ever, the NEXT BIG THING. It was fun, but seriously very stereotypical YA, and I didn’t connect with the characters at all. And it has literally nothing in common with The Night Circus, so that comparison was crazy.

    I liked The Star-Touched Queen but also thought it was over-hyped. However, the companion book was fabulous and like 20 times better, in my opinion.

    • I’m so relieved others thought CARAVAL wasn’t all that either, because the hype train for that book was nuts! It felt like it blended many things, and I hated all the characters. I’m glad it’s nothing like The Night Circus, because I’m super excited to read that one. 🙂

  12. Great reviews, Aimal! I get it on being late on your reviews, I am just SO late as well, I don’t know how I’ll manage to do it all ahah. I really like this mini-reviews format 🙂
    I’m a bit sad you were disappointed by all of these books, but I have to admit I understand your feelings about Caraval. I just finished reading it – like, a couple hours ago – and if I liked the story as a whole, I felt a bit awkward about the suicide being used as a plot device, at the main character and most importantly, at the writing…it felt like it was trying too hard at times, which is a bit of a shame :/
    I’m eager to read Flame in the Mist since I really enjoyed TWATD but I’m a bit more cautious about it overall, as I heard so many mixed things about this book.
    Lovely reviews 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Marie. Your comments always make my day. 💛 The mini reviews are definitely helpful in powering through all the reviews I need to write, haha.

      I’m honestly kind of relieved that other people were left underwhelmed by CARAVAL too! The hype for that book was such a monster that I kind of felt like I had read a completely different book.

      • Oh I felt the same way… I actually double-checked the book on Goodreads to be sure I read the right one, ahah. It’s good to know we’re not alone feeling this way. Hype can be very disappointing at times :/

  13. All these books were on my TBR at some point though.I read Caraval few moths ago and dropped it and I dnf’ed Star Touched Queen.The hype really misled on this one though.I thought I would finally read something from Indian mythology and it really disapoointed me.

    • I’m so relieved people feel similarly about Caraval and TSTQ! I really wanted to love both of them, but I just couldn’t deal. Have you seen the Library of Fates around? I’ve heard that one’s an incredible book inspired by Indian lore, and it’s high on my TBR!

  14. I’m so happy I’m not alone here with Caraval! So many people hyped it up and when I read it I felt like I read a completely different book than everyone else. Scarlett and Tella were said to have this great sisterly bond where they’d do anything for each other, but that was never actually shown in the text!

    • Honestly, same with Caraval! I couldn’t believe how much hype there was the book when it was so painful for me to read, lol? And yeah, Tella and Scarlett’s relationship was definitely one of the most disappointing aspects for me.

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