Written by Stephanie Garber
Published by Flatiron Books, January 31 2017
My star rating: 5 stars
Scarlett has never left the island where she grew up with her sister Tella and her powerful cruel father. She is now days away from entering into an arranged marriage and she fears that her dream of seeing Caraval, the far away, once a year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over. One day, the invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks the apprehensive 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. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.
I read the synopsis for this one months ago but then never revisited it so I went into it not knowing what to expect. I remembered that this was about a carnival of sorts that was also a game. Now when I think carnival, I think whimsy, fun, and excitement. But this book was anything but! It was deep, dark, mysterious, and brutal at times. The first few chapters of the book set the tone and it caught me off guard in a good way. Caraval itself was a game and a puzzle that needed to be solved in order to win. Between the performers and the game itself the lines between fantasy and reality were blurred and that was the absolute best part of this book. Stephanie Garber executed the mystery to almost perfection. Many times throughout a chapter I would be convinced of one thing then would change my mind. I was constantly wondering what was real and what was a performance. I guessed right a few times but not very many. I loved the adventure of finding clues and piecing together this elaborate puzzle!!
The world building was also great. Caraval took place on an island (which was said to be the private island of Legend himself) that was full of interesting buildings, magical aspects, and canals of water that wove through and connected it all. Not only was the setting itself unique, but the aspect of time was a major player in the book. I read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern just before reading this one and I now feel like that was a mistake. The Night Circus was so descriptive and atmospheric that it set this one up for failure in a way. Nothing could compare to Erin Morgenstern’s world. Nevertheless, the world was still beautiful and kept me flipping pages. The writing itself was fantastic! The way that she described things (such as “Death was the colour purple”) had me stopping to reread lines and admire their beauty. The writing flowed like the canals in Caraval with effortless ease.
The characters themselves took me a long time to attach to unfortunately. I couldn’t connect or relate to them and actually found Tella to be annoying. But as the story progresses and you learn more about their personalities, their past, and their emotions, you quickly understand and relate to them. These sisters were not only flawed but they were damaged, fighting for themselves and their freedom. The aspect of sisterhood was really great. I’m an only child so I love to read about the dynamics of siblings. I have to say that my favourite character was Julian. There is just so much depth to his character and so much mystery! I desperately need book two to learn more about him!
While reading this book I liked it. But since finishing it yesterday I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m constantly going over all the details trying to remember what was real and what was part of the game. I’m also trying to connect all the dots from past events that built to the game that included these sisters. There are just so many possibilities with this! You may not realize until after you’re done reading it just how well this book was written! It’s crazy to think that this was Stephanie Garber’s debut novel! Please, can I have book 2 now??? Please?? Ya, didn’t think that would work! I gave this one 5 well deserved stars!!