Book Review: Caraval- Stephanie Garber


Author: Stephanie Garber

Series: Caraval (book #1)

Genre: YA Fantasy

Format: Hardcover (407 pages)

Publisher: Flatiron Books (Jan 31st 2017)

My Goodreads rating: 4/5 stars (4.5)

Book Depository: Caraval

Goodreads Synopsis:

Remember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her 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 faraway, 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. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.

Welcome, welcome to another review by yours truly, me! See what I did there? Hehehehe, I’ll show myself out now.

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Anyway! It’s almost 1 a.m. and I wasn’t going to write a blog post tonight, because of #reasons and #laziness, but I literally just finished reading Caraval by Stephanie Garber and I have so much to say. So I jumped right into a review, skipping out the other books I have to review first. Caraval has received its fair share of mixed reviews. From what I’ve seen, the majority of people loved it, but a few book reviewers I like seemed to hate it. Naturally, it has been on my TBR pile since it came out, because I wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about. I wanted to know if I would love it or hate it. What have I realised?

That holy crap, this is a fun, crazy little book.

Caraval is set in a world in which a magical, carnival-like place called Caraval hosts extravagant games for the world’s population to take part in, travelling around the globe spreading magic and entangling real life with make-believe. At the head of mysterious Caraval is an equally mysterious man named Legend, who no one has ever properly seen, and who has a questionable, villainous reputation. When Scarlett and her sister Tella are invited to participate in the game, Scarlett becomes trapped in a game that twists reality and fantasy, and she must try to get her sister back from Legend’s clutches. At least, before the other players do. The winner receives a wish, but they must keep the number one rule of Caraval in mind:

Remember, it’s only a game.

The above plot sounds freaking AWESOME. I was so pumped to get into this book, and with good reason! I love anything to do with magic, twisted reality, and questionable carnival leaders shrouded in mystery! I’ve heard this book compared to The Night Circus, and I can see why it would be. But considering that I didn’t like The Night Circus at all, and quite enjoyed this novel, I’d have to disagree. The main reason for that is that in this book, things actually happen. We aren’t promised a “game of magic” where people can literally get sucked in and lose their sanity, but then given nothing. From the moment Scarlett arrives at Caraval, she is pulled into a game so cryptic and full of secrets and clues that only wit and taking risks can help her.

“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.” 

If you are a fan of insane plot twists, outstanding magic and obsessively reading to discover secrets and answers like me, then this book is for you. Every time I tried to guess where the plot was going, I was completely blindsided. I reached a point where even I couldn’t tell what was real and what was part of the game, and I found that both fascinating and terrifying! This book was so much darker, scarier and entertaining than I expected it to be. I can’t stress enough how much I love the idea of a ‘magical game’, where people aren’t quite sure if there is actual magic involved or carefully placed illusions. But my god, was there magic, and was there mystery. Scarlett gets completely turned around trying to discern fact from fiction, and I was blindsided with her. My favourite part? The constant warning about it all being a game. This made it seem so ominous, especially when events very much stopped feeling like a game. I really want a movie to be made of this, because I think it would be amazing! This was my reaction after every plot twist:

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As for the characters, I have seen people complain about them, particularly Scarlett. I disagree with the negative comments, for the most part. Scarlett could have been more developed, but I think her character suited her upbringing. She grew up protecting her younger sister from an abusive father, and as a result she has always opted to do whatever made it easiest to help her sister. If she was caught with boys, her sister would be punished. If she acted out, her sister would be punished. So it’s not that implausible that she would be a little scared and naive when it comes to making tough, logical decisions at Caraval. Nor is it implausible that she would be a little shy around guys, and find men like Julian attractive, yet try to protect her virtue! Speaking of Julian, I also liked him. He has the perfect mix of good looks, sarcasm and bravery that I love in a character, and I think the gradual warming relationship between him and Scarlett was perfectly adorable. The characters in Caraval were awesome, and I loved the mystery surrounding Legend. But I will say that Scarlett’s and Tella’s father confused me. So abusive, for no good reason.

The final quarter of the book was a rush of nerve-wracking action and plot twists, and I loved every second of it. My only complaint would be that it was a little too nicely wrapped-up and explained; I just wish it was a little grittier. I kind of wish the whole book escalated a bit more wildly, too. The ‘game’, as twisted as it was, could have been more terrifying, more blurred between reality and fantasy. But that’s probably just me!

Now, I didn’t give the book five stars, for two solid reasons: the writing and the world-building. I notice strange writing like an itch, and when I have to suffer through a whole book with writing I don’t like, it becomes like an unbearable itch I can’t reach. I’m not sure if Garber was going for whimsical, poetic or just detailed, but her use of metaphors and over-reliance on the use of colours to describe things really confused me. Here’s a few examples of metaphors that didn’t make sense to me:

…The colour of late-night laughter.

She could see the sting of her rejection in shades of stormy blue, ghosting over his heart like sad morning mist.

I….what? Who? Why? There’s no need to try to sound more “poetic” if your writing doesn’t make sense. I just needed to get that off my chest, because every time I stumbled upon metaphors like those my eye starting twitching. As for the world-building, Garber did a good job describing Caraval, but she seemed to forget about the rest of her fantasy world as soon as she started doing that. What are the Conquered Isles? What is the rest of the world like? She sets something up quite lazily and it tapers off when it isn’t needed anymore. And I wasn’t too fond of this rather lackluster map at the beginning:


Also, one last pet-peeve: what happened to the rest of the players in the game? Once Scarlett started to gather her clues, it seems like the competitiveness of the game vanished. Oh well.

To conclude, despite my complaints, this was one of the best books I’ve read this year! I simply loved being kept on my feet, guessing what would come next, and I loved the exciting and terrifying world of Caraval. I actually can’t wait for the next book!

And that’s that! I’m glad I fell on the Caraval-appreciation side of people who read this book, and I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about it below! As always, thanks for reading 🙂

-Royal Reader


5 thoughts on “Book Review: Caraval- Stephanie Garber

  1. I’ve heard so many differing things about this book – it seems like people either love it or hate it, so I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. 🙂 Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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