Books · Reviews

Caraval by Stephanie Garber // Enchanting, but flawed

278832144.5 stars

Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . .

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved 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 far-away, 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. 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.

Wow. This book left me enchanted and spellbound because I absolutely adored it. I knew I had to pick this up as soon as I heard of it because it was marketed as a YA version of The Night Circus, which is one of my favourite books. Though there are marked differences between the two, this did not disappoint!

Scarlett and Tella are sisters who live with their abusive father. They have always dreamt of visiting Caraval, a performance of sorts, which takes place annually. It just so happened to be happening on an island not far from where the sisters lived and after years of trying to get an invitation, they finally received one. They see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the magic of Caraval, and also a means of getting away from their father.

Starting off, I didn’t expect Caraval to be a game – it wasn’t mentioned anywhere that it’s a competition, but that was evident within the first few chapters. I really enjoyed how the game was set up – with all the guests receiving clues and it being a treasure hunt of sorts. What I found quite cool was that each clue on the list could mean what you want it to mean – it was all very subjective. As long as the characters felt what they were doing was right, it was.

The ambiance of Caraval is similar to that of The Night Circus (though I must say, I still prefer the latter!) because of how beautifully it’s described. With vivid elucidations and effective use of imagery, the reader feels transported to Caraval and I almost felt like I was experiencing it firsthand. Though the characters are told early on in the story that everything that happens in Caraval is an illusion, it definitely feels very real and very magical.

What really stuck out to me about this book is the mystery. There were so many twists and turns and I didn’t see any of them coming! In my notes, I’ve written all my predictions, some of them came true…only to be proven otherwise in another few pages! There is so much that happens that it’s impossible for both the characters and the reader to keep track of. I loved the air of mystery that surrounded all the happenings of this book and I liked that this book caught me off guard so many times. It’s so unpredictable and because of it’s setting, literally anything can happen. <spoiler> I did find the whole dead/not dead thing to be a bit of a cop-out though. <end spoiler>

The writing of this book is whimsical, full of metaphors and a lot of purple prose. It’s not for everyone, but I did enjoy it. Something that annoyed me a bit however was that the main character Scarlett saw people’s emotions in colour. At times it was explained well and made sense but at others, it felt a bit odd.

“She’d disappeared like a broken star, leaving the world untouched, save for the bits of missing light that no one would ever see again.”

The setting of this book is definitely a stand out point for me, but in making it such a beautiful one, the characterization and the actual magic of the world was a bit compromised.

There was so much potential for these characters to be great but they just fell a little flat for me. Scarlett was so naive for someone her age, and just in general, quite frustrating to read because of how indecisive she was. Julian was an interesting character in the beginning but throughout the course of the story, I started to care less and less about him. Tella was one of my favourites, and she’s one who we actually haven’t spent that much time with. I’m really interested to know what happens to her in the next book. The side characters, those who actually worked at Caraval, were really interesting. They definitely added to the mysterious air of Caraval and made it all the more interesting. Scarlett and Tella’s father was awful and I hated him so much. The scenes where he hurt the sisters were so heartbreaking. He was so controlling and even sold Scarlett into an arranged marriage with a man she hadn’t even met!

“[Scarlett’s] world was a grand game board, and her father believed this marriage would be his penultimate move, putting all that he wanted within his grasp. 

I did like the backstories of the characters, which get revealed as the book progressed. About Legend, Scar and Tella’s father, Julian, Scar and Tella’s grandmother – they really added an extra dimension to the characters, which they really needed.

This book also features the age old trope of insta love. WHY MUST YOU DO THIS??? Julian and Scarlet know each other for about two days but she already started prioritizing him over her sister, WHO COULD BE DYING? WHAT ARE YOU DOING SCARLETT?! Ugh. So annoying!

Towards the end, when the plot starts to resolve and all the loose ends start getting tied, we’re supposed to get an idea of how the magic works in this world, but that’s a topic that gets brushed over, which was quite sad. It almost felt as if even the author hasn’t figured out how she wants the magic in this world to work, which is why the readers aren’t told about it either. The end, in general, felt a bit rushed and was a bit too perfect for such a messy, all over the place plot. However, the epilogue ends in a bit of a cliffhanger so I’m excited for what’s to come!


Have you read this book? Did you like it? Do you plan on reading it? Do you like books with purple prose?


12 thoughts on “Caraval by Stephanie Garber // Enchanting, but flawed

  1. Amazing review! I have the book but haven’t gotten to read it yet! I’m hoping too soon. Your review makes me wanna go grab it up right now and start reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes! My feelings entirely! I did think the insta love thing was less sudden than some YA I’ve read which was good, but you’re so right about how she very quickly prioritises her sister in a different way. I’m already buzzing for the sequel! (is this enough exclamation marks?)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like that it wasn’t literally love at first sight like in a lot of other books, that’s definitely a redeeming factor 😉
      Haha one can never have too many exclamation marks!!! 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I was kind of disappointed that this was marketed at a YA Night Circus. Though I loved Caraval (especially the mystery and blurred lines between game and reality), I felt that they didn’t compare. Yes there was a carnival, but Night Circus was SO beautiful and atmospheric.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Night Circus is one of its kind! I definitely prefer it over Caraval. The Night Circus is more about the experience of the world and the latter is more about the game. However, I thought the general vibe of both settings were magical and mysterious so I didn’t really mind the marketing. A lot of people were really upset though because they went into this expecting the same enchanting experience as The Night Circus.

      Liked by 1 person

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