Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the middle of a desert on a different planet in an unknown galaxy far, far away, then I’m sure you’ve at least heard of Caraval. Over the last few months my Bookstagram feed has been flooded with pictures of all the various editions, and I’ll admit I was genuinely intrigued. It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen a book being hyped about on such a huge scale, so when I saw this book on Jonathan Ball Publishers’ highlights list, I immediately sent in my request to review it.
Naturally, I’ve had my doubts scattered in with the excitement of reading this debut novel by Stephanie Garber; so it brings me great pleasure to say that I deem this book worthy of the hype surrounding it! Let me tell you why I feel this way…
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.
Before I even start talking about the actual story, let me just say that it’s been a while since a book captivated me like Caraval did. I was completely absorbed while reading and would not could not put this book down because of how well it was written. Stephanie Garber’s writing style for this book was perfect! It flowed so beautifully and brought this delightful tale to life with all its vivid, colourful descriptions that took my breath away. It would’ve been easy to tip the scale toward over the top metaphors and unnecessary, dragged out explanations because this kind of story obviously needs that in special doses otherwise it’s just another book about magic. The fact that the author managed to get the balance just right is what astonished me all throughout reading Caraval. And in my humble opinion, it’s what sets this book apart from the rest in this genre.
The biggest surprise to me however, was that this book focused on really important themes. Themes that I’ve been craving for in YA Fantasy books for a long, long time. We get to uncover the relationship dynamics between two sisters who are different in so many crucial ways, while learning more about Scarlet’s own strengths and weaknesses. We get to see how the love and bond between two sisters evolves over time and how it impacts those involved. We get to learn that nothing is as it seems and that’s the beauty of it all.
Apart from sisterly bonds, the book also focuses on love, loss, friendship, betrayal and the importance of taking risks every once in a while. Mix this up with a magical game of mystery and illusions, and you get the perfect YA fantasy book for absolutely anyone to enjoy.
Speaking of magic, I really loved that Stephanie Garber refrained from giving the characters special gifts, and instead had the actual game filled with enchantments. When I pick up a fantasy book I kind of expect it to be about someone with supernatural powers, so this change in direction was a truly welcome effort. It made the magic in the story all the more striking, and gave the entire tale an element of unpredictability that I always love. I think it helped that there was an element of mystery carried throughout the book; it really gave it an extra bit of something which made the story all the more interesting and captivating.
And then there are the characters. Each and every one of the characters in Caraval was completely unique and written so thoughtfully that you begin to think of them as real people.
My favourite character was Julian, just because I could never really figure him out. I loved that he never hid the fact that he carried secrets of his own and that not even in a million years would I have ever guessed what those secrets were! He was a beautifully written character!
Scarlet was also another favourite of mine because she was the one who experienced the most growth. She went from a timid, scared girl who never swayed from the rules; to a strong, fierce woman who would do anything to protect the ones she loves. I wrote a post a while back where I said: “I’m tired of reading books where the single agenda of the female narrator, revolves around a boy who broke her heart.” After reading Caraval I felt as if Stephanie Garber not only heard my calls, but answered them!!
Caraval was a book filled with twists and turns, good surprises and bad. It was a story that mystified me around every corner and had me wishing that it would go on forever. Which is why I was overcome with joy when I reached the epilogue and discovered that it may very well not end here! Even with the opening for another book, the story concluded in the best possible way and I adored that we got all the answers we needed. I’m genuinely excited for the next part of the journey, though I’m preparing myself for a very different story.
I gave Caraval 5/5 stars on Goodreads.
*I’d like to thank Jonathan Ball Publishers for sending Caraval for me to read and review.*