Caraval by Stephanie Garber: Review

I finished this book in three days despite being a slow reader and working 8 hours a day. Those of you who are familiar with my reading speed will appreciate this feat and to everyone else, I promise, it’s not something I do all that often…

Image result for caraval

Title: Caraval                                                 Author: Stephanie Garber                         

Date published: January 2017

Pages: 407


An original world. A legendary competition. A mesmerizing romance. An unbreakable bond between two sisters. 

Welcome to Caraval!

Before you enter the world of Caraval, you must remember that it’s all a game . . .

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their ruthless father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the legendary, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

Then, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation to Caraval finally arrives. So, Tella enlists a mysterious sailor’s help to whisk Scarlett away to this year’s show. But as soon as the trio arrives, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nonetheless soon becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with her sister, with Legend, and 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 book was both thoroughly entertaining and full of mystery – I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story follows Scarlet and Donnatella Dragna – the two daughters of an angry and abusive father. The girls dream of attending a ‘carnival’ type game event hosted by the mysterious ‘Legend’, a troubled artist who’s also magic. From here we follow the girls and their journey through the game and all it’s mysterious twists and turns.

In terms of character I liked the balance between primary and secondary characters, I felt I knew everyone as well as I ought to and that I could empathise appropriately with each character. I adored Julian his complexity of character made him undeniably exciting to read about .Scarlet and Tella were believable as both sisters and of real girls their age. The ‘Frozen-esque’ theme of sisterly love as the all-powerful-healer-of-everything was endearing and refreshingly executed. The sisters unite not because they have everything in common with one another but because they are each other’s person. (Little Women was nice like this too, I’ve been reading a lot with that theme lately!) I liked also that this was possible alongside a tantalising romantic plot and that neither outshone the other *too* much. The mystery of the game meant that Garber could twist how we perceived characters and it worked tremendously. Scarlet’s propensity for mistakes was believable and made her so much more likable as a character; her decisions always suited her personality and this made her character arc a lot more palpable.

You know those ‘choices matter’ video games? The ones where your decisions in-game affect the outcome of the play-through? This book kind of feels like those do. Scarlet’s progression in the game is open to so many possibilities that guessing what happens next is almost impossible; she doesn’t even know what’s going on. It was fabulous to read and discover Caraval through Scarlet’s eyes. Its magic was infectious and I found myself wishing I could just explore Caraval – actually playing might be too scary for me! The only real downside of this was that it distracted from some of the major ‘drama’ moments in the story, making them less emotional. Because everything was there to be questioned it was easy to not feel the severity of some of the stories core moments, you could just choose to believe that it was a part of Caraval’s magic.

The book invites you to question your own choices, beliefs and flaws and contains fabulous, positive messages – all beautifully constructed. This was one of my favourite lines, simple but lovely:

“Hope is a powerful thing. Some say it’s a different breed of magic altogether.” – Caraval, Stephanie Garber

It was beautifully described as well and it did it without slowing the pace. The vibrancy and magic of the place really came through in Garber’s description of it and made it sound like an entire island plucked from Alice in Wonderland. It very much had that vibe about it though perhaps it erred slightly more on the darker side ( If only I’d written this in time for Star Wars Day). It almost felt more psychological than Alice, as a reader I was invited to question everything – with no tangible truth it was bizzare to try and understand, it simply had to be enjoyed. And enjoy it I did.

It was one I’d 100% recommend and found to be a surprisingly quick read. I hope Stephanie Garber writes more and I’d be keen to read a sequel too!


4 out of 5

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If you liked ‘Caraval’  try ‘The Night Circus’

If you have any other suggestions or insights feel free to message me or leave them in the comments section below!

Shout out to Beth at Booksnest for sending me this book for my birthday!

– Cat –


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