Thursday, February 2, 2017

Book Review - Caraval by Stephanie Garber

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.

When I first heard about Caraval, I wasn't as intrigued by it as so many others seemed to be.  But as more and more early reviews started trickling in and raving about the book, I admit to being swept up in the hype.  Even though I was skeptical, I just had to see what all the fuss was about.  I'm happy to say that I won't be the Black Sheep reader here.

Caraval is one of the most atmospheric books I've read in a long time.  It's basically what would happen if Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory and Alice In Wonderland had a demented love child.  There are so many twists and turns in these pages that I got mental whiplash just trying to keep up, and it was so much fun.

The very first chapter introduces us to Scarlett Dragna and her impulsive sister Donatella, where they live on an island with their very abusive father.  After years of writing letters to Legend, the master of Caraval, she is finally given three tickets to the magical event; one for her, one for Tella, and one intended for her fiance, a count onto whom she heaps all her hopes of escape, despite not even knowing his name.  While Scarlett has basically given up on her childish hopes of ever attending Caraval, Tella seems to have other plans.  With the help of a wayward sailor by the name of Julian, Scarlett finds herself journeying to the island against her will.  Separated from Donatella, it doesn't take long for Scarlett and Julian to find themselves swept up in the magic and wonder of Caraval.

Caraval is like a maze, full of so many twists and turns that it's impossible to be able to jump to any kind of conclusions. (Though if you're anything like me, you're going to try anyway.  And if you're anything like me, you're going to be wrong every single time.)  That's what makes it such a compelling read; it's drenched in mystery and magic and it'll sweep you off your feet before you're even aware you've become invested.  This is a novel meant to be devoured, to shatter bed times and lure you in with that "Just one more chapter" vow that you quickly realize you have no intention of keeping.

As far as characterization, Julian really stands out.  I spent well over half of the novel wondering just why I felt such a strong, undeniable attraction to him.  He's not particularly funny, not overly snarky, and never once does he claim to be a gentleman, but there is something so contradictingly authentic about him.  Very rarely have I experienced a character with more secrets, more mystery, more elusiveness, than Julian.  In a nutshell, that's his draw; we don't know who he really is, what we can believe, or what his intentions are, but he has his own honor that he sticks to, this sense of morality that he never breaks, that redeems him from his worst transgressions.  Pair that with his often infuriating confidence and swagger, and you have your newest YA heat-throb.

Scarlett, while not quite as amazing as Julian, also boasts some fleshed-out characterization.  She's pragmatic and cautious, and fiercely protective of her younger sister.  We get to see her let go from time to time, take risks that don't always turn out in her favor, which adds to some great and believable character growth.  She can be annoying - especially when she's so focused on her unknown fiance and their arranged marriage to the exclusion of everything else - but she's always genuine.

Now, while the main characters are two of the best things this novel has going for it, the side characters are some of the worst.  Scarlett's father lacks any real ambiguity, and instead comes off as a one-dimensional sadist, more of a plot device than a villain.  Tella is reliably reckless, but she never really feels fleshed-out.  Because of this, the ending - the only part of the book in which we really get to see them - lacks the authenticity of the first three quarters of the novel.  Our questions are answered, the mysteries of Caraval are revealed, but I'm still trying to decide if I feel satisfied or cheated by it.

All in all, I'd say Caraval is a novel meant to be read for its journey rather than its destination.  You may not love where it lets you off, but you will love every second of the ride.  Every twist and every turn, every question burning a hole in your mind and spurring you on to read that "just one more chapter" that is never really just one more chapter.

I haven't been so enchanted by a YA debut in a very long time.  Caraval reminded me of why I fell in love with reading in the first place.  I greedily drank it in, and am eager for the sequel promised by the final page.  Highly, highly recommended.

4 Out Of 5 Stars


  1. I GOT A COPY! YAS! I'm so happy I got my copy so I can read it and hopefully flail along with all of you. <3 Great review.

    1. Oh, yay! It's one of those books that is just so much fun to read. I really hope you like it!


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