Review: Caraval

Courtesy of Flatiron Books

Book Title: Caraval
Author: Stephanie Garber
Series: Untitled #1
Genres: YA, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Romance

Date Read: 08/29/16
Pub Date: 01/31/17


Before you enter the world of Caraval, you must remember that it’s all a game . . .

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their ruthless father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the legendary, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

Then, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation to Caraval finally arrives. So, Tella enlists a mysterious sailor’s help to whisk Scarlett away to this year’s show. But as soon as the trio arrives, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nonetheless soon becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with her sister, with Legend, and 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.

How can I write a review for this giant ball of awesome and do it justice? I was intrigued by the summary from the second I found this was coming out, but had no clue if it would live up to the hype. The back cover boasts of “The spell-casting fantasy destined to become a sensation” and Fox 2000 has already purchased the rights to turn this into a major motion film, which claims some pretty mind-blowing story is within the covers. This book was even better than I could have imagined and then some. Hi, my name’s Chelsea and I’m addicted to Stephanie Garber’s world of Caraval. 

The blurb tells you everything you need to know going in; honestly, the less you know the better and the more confused you feel, the more enjoyable your reading experience will be. Every single chapter had some sort of twist, and whether it was minor or major, it got me. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. This book was somehow 400 pages, but it went by too quickly. I kept saying “Just one more chapter” and next thing you know, it was finished. Sort of. Because YAY book #2 is coming! Well, once she writes it of course. (No pressure Steph. I’m only gnawing my nails to the bloody nub in anticipation.)

Surprisingly, one of my favorite things about this book was the budding romance between Julian and Scarlett. I must be maturing (HAH!) and opening my reading door to some new things, because years ago this would have grossed me out to the core. The good news is it isn’t gross and cheesy; the tension continually grows throughout the book but it is really quite clean. This is something I wouldn’t bat an eye at letting my teenager read; the romance was tastefully done and, while refraining from being cheap and raunchy, sucked the reader in as the relationship grew. IMO, this showed what true talent the author had in being able to gain the reader’s interest in her romantic composition without relying on overdone sexual situations that are graphic and distracting from the heart of the story.

JULIAN. I know Scarlett is supposed to the the show stopper here, but Julian stole the limelight for me. I fell in love with his character from the first page he showed up; he’s rugged, bold, and hilarious while carrying meaningful dialogue and playing a deeper role than just eye candy. I found myself cheering for him constantly throughout the story, and even when suspicion is cast his way multiple times (which both was rightly and wrongly cast), I couldn’t have cared less. This series I believe was set up, not as a complete focus on one character with many supporting roles, but as a character study on multiple people with a more complex story that interweaves multiple interests. While it is told mostly through Scarlett’s POV, we have a view into other’s interests as well, and the massive cliff hanger on the final page has set this up to be a strong series that should continue without a hitch.

There is an overall dark feel to this book, and there is some disturbing violence in a fantasy-related sense, but it was necessary and intriguing to the story line. The mystery surrounding Legend and his traveling Caraval performers was breathtaking; I found myself completely lost in this otherworld. To me, it had a historical fiction feel with a side of science fiction due to the fantasy aspect, which made for a unique read. I’m not sure what else to add, other than I have an advanced case of Caraval hangover and need the book #2 cure ASAP. If you enjoy Young Adult novels, regardless of your age, you’ll want to open your heart and your book shelf up to this one. I hate writing reviews this far in advance for a book that doesn’t come out until next year, but go ahead an pre-order, make a note to yourself to request at your library in January, or go to NetGalley and request your copy, because it will have a guaranteed spot on my Top 10 Wrap Up at the end of the year.

*I received my copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. So SO grateful and am already sending up prayers for book #2 once it’s ready. 

21 thoughts on “Review: Caraval”

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