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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Interview: Portal Fantasy Author Becky James

Hi fantasy fans! I’ve got a real treat for you today, I sat down to chat with the lovely Becky James, author of The Tenets in the Tattoos, one of the most unique and gripping fantasy books of the last few years!

Keep reading to find out what we chatted about…

LH: Hi Becky! Thanks for joining me. First off, can you tell us a little about yourself?

BJ: I write NA sword and sorcery mashed with contemporary fantasy, about a cocky swordsman and his exasperated friends. I’m also writing something more fantasy-romance themed, it’s shaping up nicely. I like noblebright, with worldbuilding threaded throughout the plot, and anything unexpected. I love it when a story comes full circle and closes off nicely, ready for the next. 

I’m from Wales originally, then I moved to Scotland, now I’m trying out living in England. (I’ll do Ireland one day to complete the set). I speak conversational Welsh, French and Japanese and eager to learn more languages. I am a massive extrovert, but nearly all my friends are introverts, so I know how not to energy vampire them. I will still talk your ear off though. 

LH: As a card-carrying introvert, we appreciate you! And if it’s about your books, I’ll happily let you talk my ear off for hours. When did you start writing and what inspired you? 

BJ: I got into fantasy young, and I’m all for stories that use the settings / events to explore human nature and character-driven storylines. My first “grown up” fantasy writer was Eddings, and I love that balance of humour and heart. 

LH: I love a character-driven story too, it’s the characters I fall for more so than the plot, especially when there’s a big group of them and we can really get to know and love each one over the course of a series. Sarah J. Maas is my favourite author for that, introducing lots of new faces slowly over a long series, and making me obsess over every single one. What are some of your favourite books, and why?

BJ: What I love is when characters and their choices drive the story, rather than weathering event after event thrown at them. Fantasy books – I’ve been told my books are like Trudi Canavan’s (what an honour!) I love Eddings, especially The Redemption of Althalus; the banter is absolute mint. T. Kingfisher’s whimsy and rollicking prose is always a good time. 

Other books I enjoy are more on the adult romance side – I am a huge fan of Alexis Hall, his portrayal of modern age Britain is so real and visceral, from sullied seaside towns to the dreaming spires of Oxford, and the relationships between the characters are so well done. 

LH: It sounds like you have a very eclectic taste, and I can see that coming through in your writing. Tell us a little about your first published book.

BJ: The Tenets in the Tattoos is my debut novel, so it will always be my baby. I do enjoy a delicious comeuppance, especially if I think whoever this is happening to absolutely deserved it. Thorrn starts off as an overconfident swordsman, convinced he’s god’s gift, and you can just bet he’s heading for a wake-up call. So my favourite early scene to write is when Thorrn realises he was wrong about someone and acted rashly. He goes careening around the castle trying to find her to right his mistake, and everyone he meets is telling them how much they have come to like her… it’s just so tasty, I was laughing so hard. 

My favourite scene from The Tenets in the Tattoos has to be when they try to convince Aubin they are in a dreamworld. The apothecarist is confused by what’s real and what’s not, and Thorrn hits on the idea of using his tattoos, those small details, to prove to Aubin that he’s in the waking world. Next time you’re in a dream, try looking at your watch. You won’t be able to discern a time, and those details are what will shock Aubin into realising he’s dreaming. So Thorrn designs a tattoo, and he chooses something to represent the group; a sword for him, a book for Evyn, a rock for the stone mage, and then a plant for Aubin. He chooses the spikiest, scariest looking plant he can find, modelled after sea holly. And then Aubin calmly informs him that that plant helps with, ahem, male personal problems. You can feel the wind knocked right out of Thorrn’s sails!

LH: That’s hilarious! I love all of the detail and meaning you’ve woven through the story, it adds so many layers and gives the reader so much more than they expected! Where do you find inspiration for your characters or settings? 

BJ: My stories are heavily UK influenced, from the mythology and folklore to the settings (semi-rural British countryside and our canals feature a lot. Slightly obsessed with canals). I’ll feature the dreaming spires of Oxford next to steel-crash impacted Sheffield, and there needs to be more about the laylines influencing Milton Keynes and the real story behind the Magic Roundabout in Swindon.

As for characters, well, Thorrn walked into my head one day and wouldn’t leave me alone. So it goes!

LH: Being from Sheffield, I heavily support this, and my books are similarly filled with British folklore and the realities of life in a Northern ex-mining town. Plus, who doesn’t love canals? Their history is fascinating. I’ll have to pick your brain about them another time! Do you consider yourself a plotter, pantser or plantser? 

BJ: I’ll be writing away and have no idea where this is going. The characters have a situation in front of them, and it’s up to them to solve it. I’m hardly ever involved! I guess that makes me a pantser, but I’ll be pantsing along and some item or event from earlier in the book or series suddenly has a role. Maybe that’s a special type of plantser (plant as in planting things there – but utterly by accident). This just supports my theory that we actually just channel stories, like some kind of medium, and that the author has very little to do with the process apart from technical execution!

LH: I know exactly what you mean, the number of times I’ve foreshadowed something without even realising it or meaning to, those are my absolute favourite moments when writing! So, what are you working on right now?

BJ: I am writing a fantasy romance! It will be featured in the Realm of Darkness set.

LH: Ooh, I’m very excited to read this collection! What one piece of advice would you give aspiring authors? 

BJ: A popular Welsh saying is, “It never hurts to ask the question. Them that don’t ask don’t want.” Always try, because rather an ‘oops’ than a ‘never was’. 

LH: Brilliant advice, and so true, I feel like so many people don’t even try to achieve their dreams because they’re afraid of failing or looking daft. It’s only the ones who are willing to fall flat on their faces, and then pick themselves back up, who succeed.

Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Becky! It’s been a dream. Before I let you go, how can we find out more about you and your books? 


That was so much fun, I love chatting with my fellow UK-based indie authors, it’s such a treat to share so much in common. And Becky is just the loveliest. And incredibly talented to boot! I’m not jealous at all…

Go check out The King’s Swordsman series and the Realm of Darkness boxset and enjoy some fabulous fantasy stories, and support an indie author!

Happy reading,

Lyndsey

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