Hello Readers & Writers,
Caraval by Stephanie Garber was one of the most anticipated and talked about books of 2017. I remember it circulating around Twitter and how it was on nearly every list of upcoming books to read. Having just finished it, I wanted to discuss it in a mostly spoiler free review.
The book follows Scarlett, a woman whose arranged marriage is closely approaching. She
has been confined to the Isle of Trisda with her sister Tella at the hands of an abusive and controlling father. A letter arriving from Legend, the leader of this well known fantastical event called Caraval, invites Scarlett, her fiance and her sister to where they will be holding their next performance. It is all Scarlett has dreamed about as a girl, having written letters to Legend for most of her childhood. Now that she has given up on the dream and is on the verge of adulthood, the letters disrupt her perfectly laid out plan.
It is because of her impulsive sister and an unknown sailor that Scarlett is brought to Caraval. Not everything is what it seems in Caraval despite it promising magic, fun, and something that will never be forgotten. Once admitted, a guest can either choose to be a player or a watcher. Those who play have a chance at winning a prize from Legend himself. The decision to play is one that Scarlett does not make lightly and its from there the thick of the plot takes place.
I’m going to briefly mention my only negative of the book and that is Scarlett prior to her growth in the story. She is a character who is afraid of taking risks and constantly tries to uphold all the rules that made her a prisoner in her life. It can be a bit excessive and it made me not like Scarlett at first. I wanted her, as a reader, to push past her fears and do something instead of her internal thoughts being filled with the same worries over and over again. She does break away from this, which makes her narration a pleasant read, but I kept wanting to shake her. I wanted her to listen to those around her who were trying to help her do what she needed to do.
Moving past that, I was entranced by Caraval. I can’t say with a hundred percent certainty I would want to be a guest at the show, but I definitely loved reading about it. Stephanie Garber did a great job of heightening sensual perceptions in order to create the magic of Caraval. Characters feel in colors, take in people by their scents, see things with a sense of wonder. Her descriptions made me smile and I think she not only captured Caraval for the story, but she made sure her readers could picture everything too. I’m a sucker for descriptions and there was a balance between too much and not enough.
As much as this is a Fantasy story, it is also a mystery. Scarlett has to decipher a series of clues in order to get her sister back. She was stolen from her upon arriving at Caraval. You are as much of a reader as you are a detective trying to figure out what happened to Tella. Through this journey, Scarlett discovers a lot about herself and how the views she once held weren’t the best.
I enjoyed the twists that were thrown into the story, how I wasn’t sure who to trust and who Legend really was. Every time something appeared to be figured out, Stephanie Garber went, “Nope, here is a new twist.” This uncertainty is only added onto by the secondary characters who promise and offer help to Scarlett in exchange for payment. Only once is payment in this story money.
This story gave me similar feelings of awe as The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern did. I was taken to a world very different from my own and nearly everything was given a splash of magic and life. By the last two sections of the book – it is split up based on which night it is in Caraval – I couldn’t put the book down. I needed to know what happened.
Overall, I felt as if Caraval lived up to its expectations and if you haven’t picked up a copy, I suggest doing so.
It gets 4.5/5 top hats from me.