Caraval – Stephanie Garber

ISBN – 9781473629141
Publisher – Hodder & Stoughton
First Published – 2017
Pages – 407

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.

I’m calling it a little early, I know… but I think this might already be my favourite novel of 2017.
Big words, I know. But if you’ve read Stephanie Garber’s majestic first offering into the world of fiction, then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

I’m always a sucker for circus-esque stories (which is odd since I have little to no interest in attending circuses in real life… unless it’s Cirque du Soleil – and Caraval does have some Cirque du Soleil like qualities. They’re both whimsical, playful and daring, with these elements of fantastical beauty often masking a darker undertone. And that’s Caraval, a magical, upended world that is masking something very, very sinister.

Our characters are instantly admirable. I loved Scarlett and her determination, her passionate love for her sister and her ability to adapt to any of the situations that were thrown at her.
The character of Legend was absolutely fascinating. He’s like a shadow in the corner of a room that you’ve glimpsed from the corner of your eye, but when you turn to snatch a proper look… he’s gone. His mystery was a driving force in the book for me and really layered the story, providing some serious twists at the climax of the novel.

There is a little romance sprinkled into Caraval, but it definitely doesn’t challenge the mystery in terms of plot dominance. Although I could see it coming, there were some sneaky twists and turns thrown in and I can appreciate that Garber let it burn slowly rather than blinding us with some nasty instalove.

The world Stephanie Garber has created is gorgeous and shining with personality. Her side characters and rich with personality and often display some of our worst qualities. The descriptions of Caraval are wonderfully rendered and easy to imagine. If it didn’t seem like such a dangerous place, I would love to visit! Just remember, it’s all a game. ;)

Overall Caraval is a delight. It was a quick read for me, despite being a smidge over 400 pages, a testament to the gripping mystery within.

Do yourself a favour and hold off on reading this one… because it’s going to ruin anything else you read for the rest of the year. Seriously, if someone can top this, they should get a medal.

Rating (out of 5):

No one is truly honest. Even if we don’t lie to others, we often lie to ourselves. And the word good means different things to different people.

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