‘Caraval’ by Stephanie Garber: Book Review

“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.”

Caraval is a young adult fantasy told from the point of view of Scarlett, who until now has been confined to the tiny island where she lives with her sister Tella, and their abusive father. For years, she has written letters to the legendary organiser of Caraval, a strange and magical game in which players compete for magical prizes. Now, as Scarlett’s arranged marriage to a mysterious count approaches, Scarlett and her sister are invited to take part. When Scarlett finds her sister has been kidnapped by the organiser, Caraval becomes more than just a game, as it turns into a race against time, magic, and a host of unusual characters to rescue Tella.

There were a couple of things I loved about this book. I thought the imagery and the language were beautiful. One of the criticisms I’ve seen in a few reviews is of the “flowery language” and romantic descriptions, but I completely disagree, as I really liked this style of writing. I loved the setting: it was magical and bright, whilst at the same time, dark and mysterious. The descriptions were wonderful, and painted a vibrant and unusual setting that was easy to escape into. The use of colour to describe Scarlett’s emotions really added to this vivid imagery, and was probably my favourite thing about Garber’s writing style.

“He tasted like midnight and wind, and shades of rich brown and light blue. Colors that made her feel safe and guarded.”

However, for me, the characters missed the mark a little. After finishing the book, I still don’t know what I think of Julian, and I don’t feel that I know a great deal about Scarlett and Tella. I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if a little more time had gone into character development. While the main characters didn’t stand out to me, I took a lot more interest in the secondary characters. I could picture quirky characters like Aiko much more clearly than I could Scarlett or Tella, and I would have loved to see more of her during the book.

I’m also unsure about the romance, which is a common problem for me when it comes to books. It wasn’t as realistic as I like it to be, but it wasn’t headily romantic enough to sweep me off my feet and forget my cynicism. Out of the potential love interests, I probably liked Dante the best, as I could see why Scarlett might feel an immediate attraction to him, though his character wasn’t fully developed enough for me to have any strong feelings. As for Julian, I couldn’t really forgive how rude he seemed during the first couple of chapters (though this might only be true for my interpretation of the character).

“Every person has the power to change their fate if they are brave enough to fight for what they desire more than anything.”

In terms of the plot, it was interesting, well-paced, and surprising. It kept me interested throughout, and there were a few twists and turns that I definitely didn’t expect. The ending took me completely by surprise, and took me a few moments to really get my head around. I’m still not quite sure how much I liked the ending, but there were definitely some clever aspects to it, which I appreciated.

Overall, the descriptions and setting made this an enjoyable read. I can see why this would appeal to a lot of YA readers, particularly those who love romance, or want a nice introduction to the fantasy genre without hundreds of pages of world-building. I can also completely relate to anyone who has fallen in love with the setting and the magic of Caraval. Unfortunately, the lack of character development prevented me from really feeling invested in the fates of the characters. It wasn’t a disappointment, but it didn’t excite me as much as it seems to have excited a lot of others.

“Hope is a powerful thing. Some say it’s a different breed of magic altogether.”

caraval-hidden-cover

Rating: 3.5/5

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