Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Hello lovely readers, how’s your day going? I know I’m a little behind the times on this one, but if you haven’t read the absolute fantasy phenomenon that is Caraval yet, then this review is for you.

TL;DR It’s a dreamy, enchanting fantasy romance, but just like the game, it has sharp edges and dark corners, and getting swept away could be dangerous…

Blurb

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

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her 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 faraway, 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. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval . . . beware of getting swept too far away.


Title: Caraval

Author: Stephanie Garber

Link: https://www.amazon.com/Caraval-mesmerising-Sunday-Times-bestseller-ebook/dp/B019J2875E/

Format: Paperback (library)

Review: 5 stars

I’d been meaning to read Caraval for years, I’d only heard good things about it, but I never got around to picking it up. Until I spotted it on the shelf at my mobile library and thought, it’s time. Now, I wish I’d read it sooner! And I’ve put a hold on the next two books in the series, so they’ll be arriving the next time the library comes around, and I can’t wait.

I’d describe Caraval as a cross between The Night Circus and Alice in Wonderland, with a hint of Stalking Jack the Ripper mixed in (yes, it’s dark under the glittering surface). There are some very serious topics touched on, including abusive parents, kidnap, torture, murder, suicide, manipulation and coercive control. But they add a depth to the story that is very much needed, and takes it from being a pretty book with flowery prose and exquisite descriptions, to a deeply fascinating, gripping and moving book about the bond between two sisters and the lengths they’ll go to to protect each others.

No one is who they seem in Caraval, that much is made clear many times throughout the story, from the warning at the beginning of the game, to Julian’s constant reminders that Scarlett shouldn’t trust anyone she meets, to the mysterious Master Legend. The true extent of this isn’t fully revealed until the very end of the book, when twists I had not seen coming were exposed, but the hints and foreshadowing were there, so I did find the ending mostly satisfying (aside from a couple of threads left hanging for books two and three).

Scarlett wasn’t my favourite YA heroine, but that’s not to say I disliked her or she wasn’t strong in her own ways. She looks for a way to get herself and her sister, Tella, away from their violent and despicable father, she chases after Tella and actively decides to stay at Caraval and search for her, and she does spend most of the book making decisions and doing things towards her goal, so it’s not that she’s passive or boring. It’s just that other characters steal the show and cast her in their shadows.

Julian was a dream book boyfriend, handsome and rogueish, pushing Scarlett away for her own protection with one hand, and pulling her towards him when he couldn’t fight his feelings with the other. The whole romantic subplot is completely swoon worthy and filled with its own twists and turns that make it that much more convincing and delicious.

I loved the back story of Legend and the whole basis for this years game, and I’m intrigued to see how books two and three will follow this up. Sort of like The Hunger Games, where you think we’ve seen the games now, how can the sequel beat that? And then Catching Fire comes along and knocks book one right off its perch (for me, anyway). I’m hoping Legend will be a similarly triumphant experience.

All in all, I give Caraval five stars, but I’m expecting the rest of the series to top it, so maybe it’s more of a 4.5. Either way, I loved every minute, I read it fast (and I’m traditionally a slow reader) and I cannot wait to get back to the world and the characters Garber has created.

Lyndsey

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Review: It’s a Bears Life: That’s No Picnic by Astrid V. J.

Where are my urban fantasy, shifter story fans? I’ve got a treat for you today. Fancy getting stuck into a brand new series about animal shifters set in inner-city Sweden? This is a prequel novella introducing us to some of the characters that will feature in the full length series that, if you ask me, can’t come soon enough!

Title: It’s a Bear’s Life: That’s No Picnic (The Last Vasa #0.5)

Author: Astrid V. J.

Rating: 5 stars

Link: https://www.amazon.com/Its-Bears-Life-Thats-Picnic-ebook/dp/B0B25J5H1P/


Blurb

There’s nothing much more life-changing than a bullet to the neck…

While he contemplates death and the consequences his will bring for his family, Bashir is offered a chance at a new life by the Swedish police officer who finds him in a dark alley of Gothenburg’s infamous north-eastern suburb. Bashir’s new life comes with the surprise that nothing is as he previously believed: magical creatures exist, and preying on the weak are forces far more sinister than the drug dealers he’d contended with before.

But if becoming a part of Sweden’s hidden underworld of shifters weren’t enough, Bashir’s discoveries are upended when he meets Milena: the last Vasa.


Review

This was a great introduction to an exciting new urban fantasy world, one set in Sweden and based in reality, but with a secret community of shifters and magic. Being a prequel novella and therefore quite short, the book doesn’t delve too deep into the lore or details of the shifter abilities or magic system, and I’m really looking forward to finding out more when the first book in the main series is released.

Astrid did manage to weave together elements of history, folklore, politics, religion and culture into this story, hinting at so much more to come.

Bashir’s experiences as an immigrant were so well portrayed and gave the story an added layer of tension and credibility, it was heartbreaking to see his physical reaction to authority figures like the police and the train ticket collector due to his past, negative experiences.

When the mysterious figure of Milena was introduced I desperately wanted to find out who and what she was, but I suppose I’ll have to wait until I get my hands on the first book in the main series, as the trilogy will focus on Milena’s life, with Bashir as a secondary character.

I’m so intrigued by the world of these bear shifters and the part the Last Vasa has to play in the forthcoming series. I can’t wait to read book one now!

You can grab a copy of It’s a Bear’s Life now for just 99c!

Lyndsey

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Review: Kingdom of Lies by R. S. Williams

Hello, hello! How is this baking hot heatwave treating you? I’m just about managing not to melt into a puddle, but it’s touch and go.

I just finished reading the first book in a new epic fantasy series by R. S. Williams and wanted to tell you all about it, mainly because it’s brill, but also because book two is coming in September and preorders are already open and just 99c! So you won’t have long to wait to binge both books. Plus there’s a prequel novella you can grab for free when you sign up to the author’s email list, I’ll tell you a little about that later…

Book

Title: Kingdom of Lies

Author: R. S. Williams

Rating: 5 stars (it has 4.5 stars on Goodreads and 4.1 on Amazon overall)

Link: https://www.amazon.com/Kingdom-Lies-Kane-Saga-Book-ebook/dp/B096VYX2DZ/

Audio book: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Kingdom-of-Lies-Audiobook/B0B5LWX5Q8

Blurb

Magic is back in Adelith, and with it the return of Cyran.

Elijah spends his days preparing for the annual Hollom horse race and working at his guardian Merrick’s forge. That is, until Merrick is summoned back to Castle Aebarrow in Adelith by the king.

Unable to stay in Rheanydd without a legal guardian, Eli is forced to go with Merrick who takes up the position of captain and trains the new guards. But the more time Eli spends in Adelith, the more his lost memories resurface-and they throw up worrying questions about his past.

As a member of Princess Sienna’s Elite Guard, Eli saves her life when it’s threatened by the presence of a mysterious Missing Prince. Eli’s heroics incur the wrath of a mad sorcerer known only as The Master, hell-bent on ending the courting prince’s life.

Elijah enters a dangerous path of self-discovery where magic and secrets intertwine. The truth about his past is within reach, but can he unlock his memories and solve the riddles in time to save the true heir to the throne? Or will the castle be brought crumbling down once more?


Review

Kingdom of Lies feels like a good old, classic epic fantasy, along the lines of The Lord of the Rings and Eragon. It follows Elijah, who has been raised by his guardian, Merrick, and is both a talented rider and skilled swordsman, thanks to Merrick’s tutelage.

When Merrick, who is an old friend of the king’s and a legendary soldier, is summoned back to the castle, Eli is forced to join him. But as soon as they arrive he begins to be struck by painful headaches and flashes of strange memories and visions of the past.

With an old threat rising once more, a rumoured missing prince and rightful heir to the throne, and spies infiltrating the castle and poisoning the princess, Eli joins the Elite Guard and finds himself embroiled in a dangerous mission to discover the truth about the unsettling memories he’s plagued with.

This book is a serious slow burn in every sense of the word. The romance between Elijah and the love interest (no spoilers here!) is hinted at and there are some sweet and swoon worthy scenes peppered throughout, but it isn’t the main focus of the story so fans of low romance fantasy will be happy. The plot also builds slowly, but the pace does keep the pages turning, and the world Rhianne (that’s R. S. Williams to me and you) has created is uncovered piece by piece, revealing magic, betrayal, fascinating herbology (I may have pinched this term from Harry Potter, but you get my meaning), and even dragons.

We don’t get to see any actual dragons in book one (see what I mean about a slow burn?), but as book two, coming in September, is titled Return of the Dragons, I’m guessing they’ll feature heavily in that one!

My favourite thing about this book was the characters, and especially a few of the secondary characters. There is a strong theme of friendship and loyalty (not surprising for a book with ‘lies’ in the title), and I loved the bromance between Elijah and Sahab. I also adored Eli’s friendship with Maevine, one of the princess’s ladies maids. At first I wondered if they might become more than friends, but it never developed into a romance, and pretty quickly it became obvious Eli was meant for someone else, but their bond stayed just as strong and unbreakable. Another character I adored was Naoko, one of the nurses in the castle infirmary. She’s a strong, self-assured and knowledgeable woman who doesn’t take anyone’s crap, and I totally respect that.

The magic system is subtle and I’m looking forward to learning more in the next two books, as well as the prequel novella, Tournament of the Elite.

Speaking of Tournament of the Elite, did you know that if you subscribe to Rhianne’s email list, you can read this novella completely free? Click here to check it out and sign up:

The novella will give you a good insight into the world and history of the story (it’s set years earlier and follows the young king) and let you decide if you think this series is for you. But, I would say, if you like classic sword and sorcery, epic journeys and battles against mysterious foes, a light sprinkling of romance that doesn’t overshadow the main plot, and, of course, dragons, then The Kane Saga is right up your alley!

Now, I’m off to read Tournament of the Elite, and then dive into my ARC of book two!

Happy reading friends,

Lyndsey

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