By: Stephanie Garber
Publisher: Flatiron books
Publication Date: January 31st, 2017
Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . .
Welcome, welcome to Caraval—Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.
Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.
But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.
Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.
This was a fantastic book to ring in the new year with, just saying. Especially if your New Year’s Eve was a bit more lackluster than you intended, then you can read Caraval and revel in the handsome male, beautiful clothes, and the magic everywhere.
In feel, I have to agree with everyone who compared it to the Night Circus (a favorite of mine). I happen to adore books with lots of depictions of Victorian/Edwardian fashion, plenty of description of beautiful magic, some form of a tragically doomed romance, and also food. The only thing Caraval was missing was the food.
In contrast to Night Circus, where both Celia and Marco are utterly steeped in the magic, Scarlett is a newcomer, and a highly relatable one at that. I enjoyed her pragmatism, her utter devotion to her sister, and her mingled suspicion and wonderment of Caraval. I like to imagine we’d all feel like that, when entering a fantastical, theme park-like setting that we are told is entirely designed to sweep you off of your feet. Tella, in contrast, was adorable simply because she dove fully into the magic, indulged to the fullest, even when Scarlett tried to hold back.
The plot felt a little more like Alice in Wonderland, as well. Scarlett has a clear quest–to retrieve her sister Tella–even though getting there involves a whole host of twists and turns. I enjoyed how the quest wasn’t clear-cut, and also how Scarlett stubbornly tried to play by the rules even when there were no rules. The villain of the story, Legend, was also distinctly dark, which made the plot all the more thrilling. I was able to get lost in Caraval, like Scarlett, even as she tried to complete the game and get to Tella.
And the romance was enough to make my head, like Scarlett’s, spin. The handsome sailor Julian comes and literally kidnaps Scarlett to bring her to the Caraval, but then accompanies her into the wonderland and somewhat reluctantly helps her on her quest. He’s handsome, and mysterious, and clearly up to no good, but like Scarlett, you just can’t help but like him anyways. I thought that their interactions fit well into the sometimes bewildering magic of the carnival, but also had an air of being genuine. I also loved how as time went on Scarlett became bolder, not just with Julian but in general. She gained the courage to face down her father and idiotic fiancé, to be honest with herself about Julian, and to do what needed to be done to get the goal.
One of my few complaints about the book is that it’s very fast-paced, with the reader puzzling out clues as to what’s going on as Scarlett does. You eventually learn that Legend has a grudge against Scarlett and Tella for their parentage, there are hints dropped as to some sort of mystery with their mother, and there’s something else about a previous Caraval where someone ended up dead. It was enjoyable in parts, because it made me feel like I was playing the game alongside Scarlett, but there were also times where it felt like scenes had no context or grounding. The last bit of the book is particularly bad with this–I had no clue what was going on at the end, and I wasn’t really happy about it. But the epilogue helped to soothe my feathers, and get me VERY excited for the next book in the series.
Overall, I was worried that Caraval wouldn’t live up to the massive amount of hype around it, but it did and then some. I can definitely say that this is going to be one of *the* YA books of 2017, and if you haven’t preordered a copy…well, what are you waiting for?
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.