Caraval by Stephanie Garber

“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.”

I was given an ARC of Caraval in return for an honest review. That doesn’t persuade my true opinion of the book. This is a spoiler free review which can also be viewed HERE.

Scarlett Dragna and her younger sister Donetella, often called Tella, live in a mock nineteenth century backdrop where a traveling circus goes from villages to cities, beckoning folk to engage in a live-performing fantasy bazaar. Their father, a man of wealth and stature, is abusive towards his daughters— and regularly goes after one sister for the actions of the other, figuring to physically harm one would be to drastically render the other tormented and obedient. After years of sending letters to the Master of Caraval, Scarlett hopes to one day be invited to partake in the show, if only the ring leader would correspond. But before she can give up her dreams of playing the game and settle down to marry her fiancé, she and her sister find themselves hostages… taken, ironically, straight to the entrance of Caraval. What occurs next cannot be understood rationally, for Scarlett must perform in this illusionary realm in order to win and save her sister, who’d been missing since their arrival.

If you loved The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, this book will more than likely please you. Personally, I felt that Night Circus was stronger in a few regards, but that doesn’t lessen the beauty of Caraval. This book shares a similar atmosphere with Morgenstern’s because, notably, it takes place in a traveling circus where reality is blurred and what once seemed exhilarating is actually horrific. Stephanie Garber did a wonderful show of exploring the depths of this whimsical story, creating a lush imagery of colors and ribbons of prose. Her writing style is easy to follow, which made the transition into the book smooth and the pace fast. I believe there were certain dialogue scenes that we could have gone without, but other than that this book can be devoured in less than a week if you put your mind to it.

I did have some issues with the story, nevertheless.

Our heroine, Scarlett, is thrown into the game after having to swim miles to shore to save her life with a complete stranger who’d been, not a few hours prior, kissing her sister in their father’s cellar…which, of course, they’d been caught and punished for. Scarlett didn’t feel much like a heroine, rather she was merely the main character and narrator of the book. I understand that wielding a sword and having magical powers doesn’t make a character strong, but even where cleverness and bravery are in mind, she lacks those traits as well. She definitely showed to have a semblance of cunning and courageousness, but it was often after someone had to help her or before she did something completely reckless and uncalled for. And thus, we have our main male figure— Julian.

Julian is a player in the game, and has a secretive history with Caraval that cannot be explained until the final pages of the story. He is sarcastic and witty, aiding Scarlett in her quest to win the game and save her sister. But I felt that his character wasn’t fully developed because most of the time he was spoken about through his supposed romance with the heroine. Even then, I felt that their relationship was rushed and a bit forced. There wasn’t much of a build-up because our main character was more concerned with surviving, as she should have been! And then suddenly these two are “in love” with one another. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed both of their developments, but I still feel that they could have gone the whole time as friends and nothing would have been misplaced or changed in the grand scheme.

If love must be a focal point in this story, it’s not about the sisters and their flirtations with the other players of Caraval, it’s in regard to the sisters alone. The tale is spun through a cycle of sisterly love, starting with Scarlett’s need to see Tella safe and freed from the game. I love how their kinship was handled and I wish there had been more time devoted to the two of them together.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a great elixir for a reading slump and certainly a unique story. I know that many of my friends fell in love with this book, but unfortunately I just didn’t experience the same story as they did. I feel that it has room for improvements, and I’m curious to see if those will be addressed in the sequel (and yes, there WILL be a second installment).

My rating: 3.5/5

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2 thoughts on “Caraval by Stephanie Garber

  1. I really enjoyed this review! I liked your analysis of the plot and how the characters play their role in the story, as well as their development. I’ll have to pick up the book and give it a go! (I also have to read The Night Circus which is on my endless TBR). Awesome review! 🙌🏼

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