Author: Stephanie Garber
Series: Caraval duology #1
Genre: Young Adult, High Fantasy
Format: physical ARC; won in a giveaway
Published: January 31st, 2017 by Flatiron Books
Synopsis: Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems. 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. A mesmerising, magical and stunningly imaginative debut novel for anyone who loved The Night Circus and Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
Trigger Warnings for this book: domestic violence/abuse, sexual assault, suicide.
Wow. I’m not even sure where to start with this review. I finished Caraval a few days ago, and I’m still trying to process all of the crazy, insane things that happen in this book. But, since the book releases today, I figured I would do my best in writing a coherent review!
I managed to get my hands on an ARC of this book back in November at YALLFest, and I completely regret not picking it up sooner. Caraval is unlike any fantasy book I’ve read before, where lies and secrets run more rampant than the truth, and none of the characters are who they appear to be. I was always kept on my toes, attempting to puzzle out the meaning behind a vague series of clues.
What I found to be most striking about this novel is how utterly unpredictable it is. I do pride myself on being able to identify most major plot twists before they happen in YA books, but this book seemed to make a fool out of me. By this, I mean I literally couldn’t tell up from down or left from right when it comes to Caraval. The things I thought were going to happen were either outright denied, or took a completely different turn that I expected. So for that reason, I could hardly put this book down. I flew through the chapters and had to keep my eyes from wandering down the page, because every section of the book seemed to reveal a gasp-worthy twist that I never saw coming.
The atmosphere of this book is also completely engrossing. A constant feeling of mystery, magic, and darkness seems to linger in the air of Caraval, and the descriptions written by the author were to die for. A few times I’d read a paragraph, and have to pause in order to drink in the luxury of her words.
“Scarlett knew it was dawn, but the crooked halls of La Serpiente smelled like the end of the night, sweat and fading fire smoke mixed with lingering breath from words whose ghosts still haunted the air.”
If you’re a fan of Alice in Wonderland, you’re sure to love this book. Many of the events that occur are strange and inexplicable, but filled with such magic and curiosity that you can’t help but be blown away. Caraval also has a querky side that reminds me a lot of AiW; for example, the characters spot signs that read “Come Back Yesterday,” and stay in an inn with doors of all different colors and styles that are completely out of order.
Scarlett herself was a really lovable main character. Unlike a lot of the bold, headstrong female protagonists that appear in YA lit, Scarlett tends to air on the side of caution. Every decision she made seemed to be one between safety or risk, and her character arc is founded on the need to overcome the fear that her abusive father has ingrained in her.
Now, for the romance. I think many people will find it completely swoon-worthy (I know I sure did). Julian, a sarcastic and flirtatious young man reminiscent of Nikolai Lantsov, is certainly going to be the next addition to your Book Boyfriends list. Just read this:
“In a flash, Scarlett’s back was pressed against the fountain, and Julian’s hands were spread out on either side of her, so much larger than her own. ‘Crimson, relax.’ His voice sounded uncommonly soft, although as he spoke, relaxing felt instantly impossible. With every word he leaned in closer, until the house and lights had disappeared and all she could see was Julian.”
Yeah, you’re bound to fall in love
just like Scarlett does. But, while the romance was filled with chemistry and steaminess, it also had a fair bit of insta-love. I still very much enjoyed the romance, but at times I wish it hadn’t taken up quite as much of the overall story.
Much of the book revolves around Scarlett’s relationship with her sister, Tella. Unfortunately, this was probably my least favorite aspect. Almost everything we know about Tella is through Scarlett’s opinion and descriptions of her, so I wasn’t able to fully connect with her character. Though I was very interested to see how Scarlett would solve the mystery and play the game of Caraval, I didn’t particularly care whether or not Tella was actually saved. At times, she seemed incredibly naïve and slightly annoying.
However – the ending of the book definitely changed a lot of that for me. Based on what’s revealed, I think we’ll get to understand more of who Tella really is and what motivates her in the sequel. The ending as a whole…. could’ve been better. I don’t know. I’m still not sure quite how I feel about it. From an objective standpoint, I can see how there were quite a few shocking twists that definitely surprised me and made for an astounding finale, but I can’t help feeling as if it were a tad anticlimactic. The final action scene wasn’t my favorite, and I think it was just hard for the ending to live up to a book that was already full of built-up mystery and interwoven plot threads. I thought there were certain events that were too random and convenient, but I can’t go into any more detail without spoiling half the book. Overall, it just didn’t have that final “wow” moment I was hoping for. That being said, there was a pretty solid kicker on the dead last page that helped save the ending for me in a big way. I’m more excited than ever for the sequel!
As you can tell, Caraval definitely did not disappoint! Considering all the hype surrounding this book, I think I can fully admit I’m just as obsessed as everyone else. If you haven’t already bought or preordered this book, what are doing with your life???