Read a full summary of Caraval, the first book in the Caraval series. This page is full of spoilers, so beware! If you are looking for a spoiler-free review, check our rapid review. If you are wondering what happened in Caraval, then you are in the right place!
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in Caraval?
Scarlett has written the Caraval grandmaster for years. He responds offering her three tickets just as she’s engaged to be married. She takes the tickets to her sister Donatella and finds her with a sailor named Julian. Their father believes Scarlett has been with the sailor and punishes Donatella for it.
Julian will sail them to Caraval for free. If they want to go, they should meet him at dawn.
Another letter arrives. Both sisters are invited to live at the Count’s mansion once they’re married.
The sisters argue because Scarlett thinks they should skip the Caraval because her marriage will get them off the island.
Scarlett calls a secret meeting with Julian on the beach. Her father drowned her friend Felipe here and threatened to do the same thing to Donatella. Scarlett offers her three Caraval tickets if Julian will sail away without Donatella. But Donatella is there. They drug Scarlett.
Scarlett dreams about their grandmother telling them about the Caraval master, Legend. He fell for Annalise, the one girl he couldn’t have. Legend thought you could have your one greatest wish with the help of magic. He asked to have the best troupe of actors. He thought this would win Annalise over, but he was wrong.
Scarlett awakes in a raft with Julian. He says Donatella will be on the island with them. She made it look like Scarlett was kidnapped so she can still marry her Count.
The boat takes on water. They swim for shore. Scarlett’s dress and corset weigh her down. Julian cuts them away so she can make it.
The only thing open in town is a clock shop. They find clothes, food, and a note to Scarlett from Legend.
A man opens a portal in one of the clocks, a shortcut into Caraval. Julian tells her not everyone in Caraval is what they seem and won’t take it. He leaves while Scarlett’s still trying to decide. She declines but sees Donatella as the door closes.
Scarlett finds Julian. At the Serpiente House, Julian acts like he’s Scarlett’s fiancé and says Legend gave them special tickets. The girl who takes their tickets reminds them it’s just a game.
Scarlett asks Julian why he lied. He says what happens on the island stays on the island. He knows because he’s played the game before.
They enter a large balcony. Scarlett doesn’t understand how this village fits in the house. Julian says it’s a big theater. They’re watching from above.
A boy enters and tells them they’ll be solving a mystery. He says they cannot get too caught up in the game or they could go mad or be killed. They sign a contract in blood.
They must make it to the Serpiente before dawn because the doors lock. Participants can only be out at night. They arrive at the hotel just in time. Julian is trapped outside. Scarlett convinces the innkeeper to re-open the door. They pull Julian inside just before dawn breaks.
Scarlett asks if Donatella checked in. The lady cannot say who the other guests are.
Julian appears in Scarlett’s room. He begins to undress and get into bed. Scarlett says it will ruin her reputation if anybody finds out they spent the night together. She will get another room.
Julian tosses her an envelope, presumably their first clue. Inside is a green key with ‘Donatella’ on it. Scarlett goes to the room and calls for Donatella, who tells her not to enter. A young man’s in the room with her.
Scarlett falls asleep in the hallway. Dante and Valentina wake her. Dante offers his room to Scarlett. He can sleep in his sister’s room. He invites Scarlett to dinner the next day. She says no because of the ruse with Julian.
The next morning, Donatella’s room has been ransacked. Other contestants steal her belongings and look for clues. A man grabs red earrings that were Scarlett’s. She chases him. She leaves everything she has gathered with a pregnant woman. She returns without the earrings. Everyone’s gone.
Julian tells her this is part of the game: people try to sell items from Caraval. Scarlett just wants to get her sister out of here. Julian says to do so she needs to win the game. There’s more to the message on the key’s ticket. The second clue can be found in Donatella’s room. There will be three more. Scarlett needs to stay longer than one day.
Julian and Scarlett form a shaky partnership. The next clue is a picture card. Dante appears. Julian hears a male voice and is protective of Scarlett. When ‘fiancé’ is mentioned, Dante leaves quickly. Julian tells Scarlett to be careful. Dante won the last game he played, but it cost him. He thinks Dante’s back to win again and use the wish to right his life.
They want to go to the palace pictured on the playing card. The grounds have all kinds of wonders. Scarlett goes to the fortuneteller to check their future for Donatella. The man offers to tell her future each time she answers a question truthfully.
The first question is what she thinks about Julian. She says he’s the most attractive man she’s ever seen but he’s dodgy and devious. He tells her she gets two questions in return. She only gets one question asked. She should be asking about her sister, but she asks whether the Count is truthful and good. The fortuneteller says he is neither but there’s a chance he could end up good.
Scarlett begs him for another clue. The fortuneteller says to follow the boy with the heart. When she emerges outside, she doesn’t see Julian.
Scarlett enters a tent filled with magical potions. The proprietor sprays a solution to help her find the potion she needs the most. She’s drawn to one that says ‘protection.’ Scarlett can have it in exchange for her greatest fear. It’s her father.
She gets the potion and thinks she sees Julian outside. She follows him and ends up in a little garden with a wishing well. She notices a button in the well with the Caraval symbol on it. She pushes it, the water drains, and a staircase appears.
Scarlett climbs down. She hears someone scream and sees someone being tied up. She hears a male scream but convinces herself it’s not Julian. She reminds herself it’s just a game.
Julian isn’t back at the hotel. Then he stumbles in bleeding. Scarlett cleans his wounds. He drops the red earrings into her hand. She can’t believe he retrieved them.
She tells him about the tunnels below the castle and asks if he thinks Donatella is there. He says Legend doesn’t work that way. Scarlett asks why Donatella is a prisoner. Julian says she’s starting to ask the right questions.
He sways as if he’s going to pass out. Scarlett rushes to hold him up. She thinks he’s going to kiss her. She wants him to but feels guilty for it.
The door blows open, bringing in two giggling girls and Dante. She notices his pushed up sleeves and a black heart tattoo on his arm. Scarlett follows him as he heads back out. She loses him quickly and wanders, encountering a boy selling burnt sugar cider in return for her most recent lie. It will make her see things as they should be. After she drinks it, Caraval’s colors fade away.
Back at the hotel, Aiko’s journal is the only thing in color. Scarlett and Aiko wander the streets and meet a man with the carousel.
Scarlett sees an attractive man in color. She can’t decide whether to follow him or Aiko. The man disappears. Aiko says she’ll give her a glimpse of the journal. It’s pictures of Scarlett’s Caraval journey. She wonders why this round of Caraval is all about her.
Aiko reports each round of Caraval through pictures. For a price, she’ll show Scarlett the pictures of all the games. Scarlett would love to see Dante, Julian, her grandmother, the lady who died, and Legend.
Scarlett can glimpse the journal if she buys two new dresses in a special shop. One costs her biggest fear. One costs her greatest desire. Or she can purchase each for two days of her life. She decides to answer the questions. Her greatest fear is that something will happen to her sister. Her greatest desire is to get her sister back. The scale weighing her answers doesn’t believe this is the truth. She has to give it two days of her life.
The shop owner says she’ll take the days now. Dante finds her along the way and helps her back to the hotel. His sister has disappeared.
When they make it to her room, Julian punches Dante and takes Scarlett from him. She explains what she’s done. He thinks he can trade one day of his life. He pricks both of their fingers, her tasting his blood and then him tasting hers. Scarlett lies against his chest and dies.
She sees a lot of strange things: Donatella, a younger version of her grandparents (her grandpa calls her grandma Annalise instead of just Anna), and people gossiping about Rosa flinging herself from a roof when her fiancé found her with Legend. She sees the boy who lost his fiancé: Dante. She sees Legend’s face. It’s Julian.
When Scarlett awakes, she feels like she has to get away. Julian’s still dead, so she rushes into the hallway. She sees her father and rushes back into the room. Julian awakes. She has to act like she doesn’t know who Legend made her think he is. She pulls away from him and can see genuine hurt in his eyes. She can sense his emotions in color now like she can sense her own, maybe because they shared blood.
Scarlett sees the man who stole her red earrings and another man with her father. She sees Julian dart into Donatella’s room. When she goes in, he’s not there. She finds a button by the fireplace which reveals a hidden staircase. She follows the sound of footsteps. She sees a severed hand and then Dante’s dead body. Julian’s there.
Scarlett runs. Julian catches her. She accuses him of being Legend. He says Rosa was his sister. He and Dante came back, secretly working together, to avenge her death. She questions him about his other suspicious actions. He finally comes clean. She believes him.
They hear footsteps and run. They end up in a room that shrinks each time they feel fear or discomfort. It gets quite tight until they figure it out and escape.
Scarlett asks Julian how he knew she was getting a ticket. He explains the story of her grandmother and Legend. Legend planned to punish all her heirs and doom their marriages since she broke his heart. This is why Legend would accept her request when she was engaged.
Scarlett thinks she hears her sister screaming. Julian realizes it’s a trick and pulls her back. She asks whether he knew all along that Donatella would be held as part of the game like Rosa was. He knew one of the two of them would be.
Scarlett’s second dress is delivered. It’s a little more scandalous, is wedding-dress white, and has added buttons. The note is signed -D with a top hat picture. There was a button-lined path to a hat shop by the dress shop. This might be the final clue. Julian thinks it seems too easy. Scarlett agrees something’s a little off but has an inkling this is the leap of faith she needs to take.
She thinks the young man wearing a top hat is Legend. He denies it. She realizes who he is: the man she saw the day her vision went black and white. He kisses the back of her hand. Julian is furious. He asks him to stop looking at his fiancé like that. The man is her true fiancé, Count Nicholas Darcy.
Her father enters from a door behind the counter. Scarlett and Julian run out into the pouring rain and are chased through town. Her father looks afraid. They escape in a boat and paddle to a dock at the Castillo.
Scarlett accuses Julian of being jealous in the hat shop. He admits he was. She wants him to share his feelings. He says there’s too much she doesn’t know about him. She’s not scared of his secrets anymore. They kiss.
They head back to the hotel because dawn is approaching. Scarlett thinks the fifth clue might be hidden in the roses. Her father and the Count capture them. Her father cuts one side of Julian’s face. Scarlett begs her father to let Julian go. He says she’ll sleep with the Count as an early wedding present. Scarlett asks the Count if he really wants her under these circumstances. He orders her father to release Julian. He does. Julian begs her not to do this for him. Her father orders him to leave.
The Count takes Scarlett to her room. She uses a hot fire poker to keep him at bay. Then she remembers the protection elixir in the pocket of her dress in the wardrobe. She opens it. Julian falls out. She grabs the elixir and throws it on the Count. She and Julian leave.
Scarlett tries to decipher the fifth clue and considers the phrase leap of faith. She thinks it might apply to a dream she had about Rosa on the balcony. She tells Julian and her suspicions. They decide to go to the balconies.
It’s daytime and Caraval is abandoned and covered in a white fog except the roses around carousel. They’re one of the few things she saw in color when her world was black and white. They look for a staircase hidden there. Scarlett finally finds one hidden among the thorns. A black hole opens in the middle of the carousel.
Scarlett jumps. She feels like she’s in cold water. She ends up by two praying statues. Legend is there. She asks where her sister and Julian are. He asks who she would choose if she could see just one again. She doesn’t answer. Legend is furious. He asks her why she thinks Caraval only happens at night. She can see Donatella if she answers correctly. She says it’s because people will do things in the dark when they think others can’t see.
Legend says Caraval isn’t just a game. The repercussions for what happens here linger. Julian appears. Legend says he and Dante have been working for him all along. He’s surprised she was more drawn to Julian. She asks Julian if the Rosa story is true. It is except Rosa wasn’t his sister.
Scarlett touches the pocket watch Julian gave her before they leapt into the carousel. Legend notices and opens it. A message from Julian sounds. He tells her it isn’t just a game to him. Legend stabs Julian. Scarlett tries to stop the bleeding, but he dies.
Donatella will be killed one hour after sunrise unless Scarlett finds her first. She finds her in a balcony room. She’s glad to see Scarlett because she’s bored. Scarlett tries to convince her to escape. Donatella thinks everything’s fine and Scarlett’s gotten too caught up in the game. She’s says it’s over now.
Scarlett tells her their father is and the Count are there. She shows her the invitation Legend gave her to Donatella’s funeral. It has transformed into an invitation to a Caraval staff party. Donatella wants Scarlett to meet the boy she met here. She’s engaged to him. Scarlett can’t believe her ears. She wants to run but knows Donatella won’t follow her.
The girls change. Donatella’s fiancé Daniel arrives. He’s Legend. Scarlett tells Donatella. She doesn’t believe her. Their father and the Count walk in. Legend admits it himself. Donatella would rather die at the edge of the world than go back to life on Trisda. She jumps off the balcony to her death.
Scarlett turns on her father. She isn’t scared anymore since he can’t hold harming Donatella over her. She says she will tell how he killed Felipe. He’ll never be safe in his own country again. Legend says he’s the one who killed Dante.
Scarlett asks for her wish before she leaves. She knows she’ll choose Donatella, but it’s harder than she ever imagined to not choose Julian. Legend won’t grant the wish after everything that’s happened. She rushes below to try to save her sister with her blood or magic. It doesn’t work.
Scarlett sees a glass box in Donatella’s room that wasn’t there before. It has the Caraval symbol on it. Inside is a letter Donatella wrote a year ago requesting a ticket to Caraval because of their abusive father. Scarlett suddenly realizes this wasn’t all about their grandma. The game might still be going on.
She asks a man to take her to Legend. He’s not really Legend, just an actor. Few of the Caraval actors have met him. He has a few more letters to give Scarlett. He says Donatella managed to catch Legend’s attention. The letters went back and forth with Donatella tempting Legend to be a hero and get the redemption he wanted after Rosa’s death.
Dontella appears and explains how she helped plan this round: leaving tickets for her father and the Count before they left, watching Scarlett play the game, and making Legend promise to take any player out of the game if Scarlett developed feelings for them. She knew how much Scarlett wanted to marry the Count, after all.
Julian is still alive! Scarlett is confused about how much was real and how much was the game. Donatella says the players are given rules but have to improvise as the game progresses. If they die in the game, it’s an actual death. They feel it all. But at the end of the game, the magic of Caraval brings them back to life. Scarlett’s relieved Dante’s alive. Julian wasn’t intended to play so long. He was supposed to leave her at the clock shop.
Donatella and Julian were never together; it was part of getting the game started. Scarlett is mortified she fell for a boy she thought her sister liked. Donatella doesn’t care.
How did Caraval end?
It’s time for the party. Scarlett doesn’t feel like going. Donatella says she’s going anyway. It’s rare that non-performers are invited.
Scarlett is nervous to face Julian. A pretty brunette is flirting with him, but he walks to Scarlett as soon as he sees her. He asks her to stop looking at him like she doesn’t know him. He says the actors bring themselves to the roles, so she knows a lot about him. While he can’t say it, Scarlett figures out he’s Legend’s brother. He almost left but came back when his brother said he had a shot at redemption. He wanted Legend to turn around the villainy. He stayed because of Scarlett.
Scarlett notices there’s a scar where her father sliced the side of his face. Even though they resurrect at the end of the game, they retain scars. She realizes she still loves him. They kiss.
Donatella is drunk and dancing with everyone at the party. A man drops a note in her dress pocket and then disappears. It’s signed by “A friend” and says her mother will be proud of how she survived the game. She should be able to see her soon. First, she must keep up her end of their bargain. The writer hopes to collect on it very soon.
There you go! That’s what happened in Carval, the first book in this series. There will be a book 2, but it is untitled and doesn’t have a release date yet.
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