Title: Caraval (2017)
Series: Untitled – Book #1
Author: Stephanie Garber
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Extent: 416 pages
Release Date: January 31, 2017
Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.
Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.
When the sisters’ long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.
Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.
Well, where to begin? Caraval is on many, and I mean many, people’s most anticipated lists for 2017, and it was… well, it was good (in fact pretty damn great at some parts) but it was not as good as I wanted, and those two are very, very different things. Let’s get to it. 🙏
This book is about Scarlett, who has never stepped a foot outside her home island of Trisda, but has just received an invitation to Caraval, a magical game led by a wizard called Legend. Once at Caraval, though, her sister Tella disappears mysteriously, leaving Scarlett to work out the clues and find her before time runs out. There’s magic, there’s intrigue, there’s romance… and you get Caraval.
“Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find yourself magic in this world.”
As as setting, Caraval was simply whimsical. Nothing is quite as it seems in this world, and since the magic has no real rules, anything and everything can happen. Garber’s writing was immersive, vivid and lush with details, a delight to all senses. It wasn’t quite ‘un-put-down-able’, but it was compelling enough for me to want to read on, and I really enjoyed visiting this world of hers.
Unfortunately, the characters felt one-dimensional and a bit dull to me, their relationships more ‘tell’ than ‘show’. The sisterly relationship between Scarlett and Tella was mentioned a lot, but I never felt fully connected to either character. Then there was also the romance, which… well, given that the book takes place over five days, is a form of insta-love and wasn’t particularly believable. In fact, Scarlett actually calls out on it herself:
“Tella, this is wrong,” Scarlett said. “You can’t be in love with someone you just met.”
… although she’s kind of hypocritical that way, since she too has only met her love interest less than a week ago:
Maybe she didn’t know him as well as she’d have liked, but she was fairly certain she was still in love with him.
The book takes place over five days, the length of the actual Caraval, and is generally evenly paced and easy to fall into. The plot was twisty and rather unpredictable; you’re never quite sure who the villain is and what their motivations are. The intrigue is real, and everything leans very mysterious that even as a reader you’re not quite sure what is real and who to trust.
Perhaps it’s the nature of the story, but Caraval relies too heavily on deus ex machina for me to really believe in the resolution. It kind of left me feeling unsatisfied, like I was given something I hadn’t yet earned but actually really wanted to. In retrospect it was perhaps part of the magic, but I’ve always preferred a more logical kind of fantasy so this is on me. Judging from most of the reviews on Goodreads, it seems like I’m kind of a black sheep for this one!
REAL RATING: 3.5 stars. Good, but not excellent. 👌
* I received an ARC of CARAVAL from Hachette Australia.