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…
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.
Author: Stephanie Garber
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.