Caraval by Stephanie Garber

4.5 stars

An enticing, fantastical adventure, Caraval will capture the hearts of readers looking for intrigue, magic, and misdirection.

Scarlett Dragna lives in a world where one can encounter magic in the annual show Caraval where the audience participates in the show. She’s dreamed of receiving an invitation for years, and when it finally comes before she has to marry someone of her father’s choosing, Scarlett decides to go.

With the help of a mysterious sailor, Scarlett’s sister, Tella, takes her to the show, but soon after they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by the event’s organizer, Legend. Scarlett learns that this year’s Caraval is based around Tella, and the winner is whoever finds her first.

Caraval’s supposed to just be an elaborate performance…right? But Scarlett gets twisted in the tendrils of the game with love, heartbreak, and magic as she searches for her sister over the course of five days.

Here’s the official summary:

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.

Oh boy. This was one intense novel for me. I sped through it on a three hour flight back home and spent the last hour and a half wondering what just happened.

This entire novel is so dazzling and enjoyable to read. I found the world building to be amazing, especially of the magical setting that Caraval is in. Garber has a way with words that makes you feel like you’re there next to Scarlett–and without branching into purple prose.

The world Garber crafted was so vivid and I can’t wait to return to it with the release of the second novel. I loved reading her writing and found it soothing while I zoomed through all the pages without realizing so.

Sometimes she uses colors to help describe emotions, which I found was very accurate as well as innovative and unique.

Caraval has such an interesting premise, especially with this circus-like atmosphere that’s dreamy and mysterious. Scarlett has to find her sister, but it’s proven more difficult than she thought.

I found the whole plot engaging and a delight to read and I loved following along with Scarlett to discover the secrets of Caraval.

The reason I took off a star was because of the ending–I thought it wasn’t justified enough, although it still made sense to me and was reasonable. Even so, I hope to find out more about the reality of what happened in the second novel.

The ending was also somewhat vague and left a lot of room for Legendary, the second book. Likewise, I think Scarlett’s romantic relationships & pursuits were handled well and were left open to interpretation.

I think this would actually work as a standalone, but of course, I’m such a greedy reader and would thoroughly enjoy reading more books in this lovely world.

Scarlett was a good choice of a main character as I enjoyed exploring her family dynamics, especially that with her father and sister, and she wasn’t annoying, except for some times when she was a little short sighted.

I found her grow somewhat as a character, but it wasn’t overly dynamic. I feel like Caraval leans more on the plot-based side, but hopefully future novels will expand more on her character.

The side characters were all interesting, but I found myself more invested in the plot and the world rather than the characters.

All in all, Caraval was a delightful novel to read, full of mystery, intrigue, and magical worldbuilding. I would recommend it to anyone looking to get themselves lost in a fantasy world and possibly solve a few mysteries along the way.

much love, vicky

Have you read Caraval? What did you think of it?

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