This book was one of my most highly anticipated releases of 2017 because I started hearing buzz about it months ago. Caraval promises magic and wonder and adventure, and it definitely delivers. This book had me hooked from start to finish, and I didn’t get bored at any point reading it.
Scarlett lives on an island called Trisda with her younger sister Tella and her cruel father Governor Dragna. Ever since she was a child, she has wanted to attend Caraval, a magical show hosted by the mysterious Legend. She wrote letters to Legend every year asking him to visit their island, but now Scarlett is going to be married, and all she yearns for is safety and security away from her father, which her fiance is offering. To her surprise, however, the very year Scarlett writes to tell Legend that she can no longer go to Caraval is the year that he invites her, her sister, and her fiance, but once she arrives, Scarlett is separated from her sister Tella. To find her, Scarlett must win the game, but not everything in Caraval is as it seems.
Scarlett is a wonderful protagonist, and I really enjoyed reading her journey as a character. At the beginning, despite wanting to go to Caraval since she was a child, Scarlett is too scared to go, and throughout the story, she is terrified of making a mistake, of ruining her life, of failure. Over the course of the novel, however, we see Scarlett start to take more risks, we see her take a ‘leap of faith’, and learn to dream again. I found this to be a really moving storyline, even apart from the sibling relationship at its core. I love that Scarlett and Tella are such different characters, but despite everything that happens in the story, they love each other more than anything. At times, Stephanie Garber makes you wonder if Tella is even a good character, but by the end of it, you realise that no matter their flaws, Scarlett and Tella love each other more than anything and they are willing to do anything to help each other out.
Caraval itself was so fascinating that it almost feels like a distinct character in its own right. Garber’s writing really brings it to life and I really loved the way that she described everything with colours and smells so that you felt like you were there with the characters. The game itself is so exciting to read as it is always changing, and I kept thinking of the plot as a bit like a mystical whodunnit set in a magical theme park. I loved the idea of all these different guests trying to solve this puzzle, and you trying to figure it out alongside them. The different performers in Caraval were a really interesting aspect to the book as you never really know who is a player like Scarlett and who is a performer, whether they’re telling the truth or whether it’s a ploy to get Scarlett to go down the wrong path. You’re trying to pick apart everything that happens and help Scarlett find the right answer.
It was also great fun to read about the actual magic itself. Stephanie Garber’s world-building was brilliant, but I like that you never feel like you’re having a load of information dumped on you and you have to try and understand how it all works. You simply get fed tidbits of magic as you go, from the dress that changes to fit Scarlett’s mood, the cider that helps you see clearly, and the fact that you don’t pay for things with money, but with secrets, lies, and dreams. The fact that the story takes place completely at night added another layer of intrigue, and the different settings in Caraval like the tunnels, the Castillo, and the dress shop made it feel a bit like a game of Cluedo. I had as much fun exploring the actual location of Caraval as I did following Scarlett as she tried to find her sister, and I hope that in the second book we get to see even more of Garber’s fascinating imagination.
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