Series: Caraval, #1
Author: Stephanie Garber
Genre: YA Fantasy
My rating: ★★★★
Remember, it’s only a game…
Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.
But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks 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. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.
Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.
“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.”
I can see why Caraval has such polarizing reviews on Goodreads. And while I do agree with some points mentioned in the lower-rated reviews, I found myself thoroughly enjoying this book. I loved the twisted games, the cunning and manipulative characters, and the overall ambiance. Caraval is so atmospheric; I could taste the ciders and smell the flowers described to me. If you’re into these types of books, then I recommend you give this series a try!
Caraval follows two sisters who live on an island with their tyrant of a father, Governor Dragna. Scarlett and Donatella (Tella) have wanted to attend the magical show, Caraval, all their lives. After years of writing to Master Legend, Scarlett is sent three tickets to attend. Then they meet Julian, a mysterious sailor who helps them get to Isla de los Sueños, where Caraval is held.
First and foremost, Caraval is a game. This is mentioned several times to remind us that Caraval is a competition. You get the choice of being a spectator or a player. Whoever wins gets a wish granted by Master Legend himself.
But things don’t go quite as expected. Tella disappears, and soon everyone is told that in order to win the grand prize, they must also find Tella. Now fearing for her sister’s life, Scarlett chooses to play the game. And so begins the whirlwind of a journey into the world of Caraval.
Per usual, I’ll now discuss the things I liked and disliked about this book.
- The writing. The writing style seems to be a major complaint among other reviewers but I actually really loved it. I loved the lyrical writing; it painted the perfect pictures for me. I was able to vividly imagine scenes and emotions so strongly from Garber’s descriptive words. I didn’t feel like it was overly descriptive, either.
- The game. I think a big misconception with this book is that it’s going to be a full-blown carnival. In reality, it’s a competition where the players must follow clue after clue that will lead them to their grand prize. No one can be trusted. The players (and performers) are cunning and, at times, the game takes some dark turns. And twists. So many twists!
- The magic. Not everything is black and white or appears as it seems. The magic constantly makes Scarlett (and us) question what’s real and what isn’t. On another note, my favorite magical item is Scarlett’s dress that will change based on her mood or occasion. Where can I find one of those?!
- Some of the characters. I wasn’t a huge fan of Scarlett or Tella. I found myself wanting to talk some sense into these girls. I had to keep reminding myself they’ve been so sheltered all their lives (with a horrible jerk father!), so I gave them a pass at being a bit idiotic. However, I do love their strong sisterly bond. Also, Julian is an awesome character who I sympathized with the most.
- The romance is a little shaky and it does border on the insta-love territory. But honestly? I didn’t think the insta-love was that bad, and overall it was very sweet.
If you’re in the mood for a book with mystery, magic, dark characters, and romance, then I highly recommend you pick up Caraval. I had such a great time reading this and I’m looking forward to diving right into its sequel, Legendary!