Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Publication Date

29th September 2016


Fantasy, YA Fantasy, High Fantasy, Fiction, YA Fiction

Star Rating



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.

“Like all great – and terrible – stories, his started with love. Love for the elegant Annalise. With golden hair and words made of sugar.”

Scarlett and her sister, Tella, have been bewitched by tales of the magical Caraval that their Nana always told them. Scarlett would write letters to the Caraval Master every year, but this year will be the last time she writes.. because this is the year she will be married.

Scarletts marriage has been arranged for her by her abusive father, and she’s never even met the groom, but she longs for it. She longs for the safety it will bring to her and Tella. And so, it is just typical, that this is the year she is invited to the Caraval. And she doesn’t want to go. Caraval is danger. Caraval is mystery. Caraval won’t keep her safe.

Tella thinks differently. With the help of an handsome stranger, she kidnaps Scarlett and sends her off to Caraval. There, Tella is also kidnapped, by the Caraval Master himself, Legend. And Scarlett then has no choice but to participate in the game, to save her sister, the person she loves more than anything else in the world.

“Welcome, welcome to Caraval! The grandest show on land or by sea. Inside you’ll experience more wonders than most people see in a lifetime. You can sip magic from a cup and buy dreams in a bottle. But before you fully enter into our world, you must remember it’s all a game. What happens beyond this gate may frighten or excite you, but don’t let any of it trick you. We will try to convince you it’s real, but all of it is a performance. A world built of make-believe. So while we want you to get swept away, be careful of being swept too far away. Dreams that come true can be beautiful, but they can also turn into nightmares when people won’t wake up.”

This is where the problems start. Caraval is a game, and Scarlett is told that countless times. And yet, she still believes it’s all real. And it’s hard being Scarlett, and watching things play out through her eyes, because she’s so goddamn serious all the time. Her decisions are sometimes nonsensical and she frustrated me no end.

Luckily, the world of Caraval was more than enough to keep me going. It’s a Wonderland sort of world, where anything and everything goes and we, as the readers, don’t know up from down, wrong from right, real from the game. It’s a twisty-turny, adventure of a ride, and it’s wonderful trying to work out where it’s all going to go. Is any of it real? Scarlett seems to think so.

The writing is good, nothing special. There are some weird metaphors thrown around, some of them I got, some of them I really didn’t. I liked it though, it’s a weird world, it fits. The writing in itself seemed a little middle-grade to me at times, but the themes were definitely young adult, so it was a confusing mix. It reminded me a little bit of Garth Nix’s ‘Keys to the Kingdom’ series, in both writing style and the fact they both feature worlds that mess with our main character.

All in all, I enjoyed it. There were a few issues but none that put me off. I rated it 3.5 and I’m definitely going to finish the series. I hope that Scarlett matures and grows through the next 2 books, if she does then this could be an amazing trilogy.

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