Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

January 18, 2017
Review: Caraval by Stephanie GarberCaraval by Stephanie Garber
Series: Caraval #1
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on January 31st 2017
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher

Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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Once upon a time there were two sisters who lived upon the tiny Isle of Trisda.  Every year the older sister wrote a letter to the man simply known as ‘Master Legend’, begging him to visit their Isle, and every year her letters remained unanswered.  That is until the seventh year when the elder sister having woken in the morning, barely days away from her marriage to a mysterious Count, finally received the long awaited invitations to attend the spectacle known as ‘Caraval’.  Entry to Caraval is by invitation only and the most important thing to remember is that ‘it is only a game!’

Yes, Caraval is told in an almost fairytale style. We have two beautiful sisters who are treated harshly by their tyrannical father.  Their mother disappeared many years ago and their father, a powerful man on the Isle rules over them with an iron rod.  Scarlett and Donatella (or Tella as she is more often known) finally have escape within their grasp, even if that comes in the form of Scarlett marrying a man she knows nothing of it seems to be the only acceptable way that they will ever escape the Island.  Until their golden tickets arrive, announcing the next Caraval spectacle where the winner will be granted one wish. It really does sound too good to be true doesn’t it?

I actually really enjoyed Caraval.  Don’t get me wrong, I had a couple of reservations, but overall it totally had me at it’s mercy.  I confess that it feels like a very indulgent read in some respects.  There is a certain amount of instalove, which is something I normally find quite irritating and yet it didn’t seem to bother me at all here, and, for two sisters who care so very much about each other I must admit that I didn’t really get a strong feeling of that.  In fairness to the author, Tella spends a good deal of the book missing in action, but even so I think that we maybe didn’t see enough of the two of them together!  And yet, in spite of those reservations I was hooked, so there it is.  The only real reservation I did experience concerned an issue with the ending which was a bit shocking and took me by surprise and that even now I’m not totally sure how I feel about.  But, I think that’s the beauty of this book in many ways – it keeps you thinking because it isn’t at all what it first seems to be.  (Anyway, I bet you’re glad I cleared that up!)

So, why did I really like this.  Well, firstly, the writing.  This story is brimming with beautiful descriptions that bring the whole spectacle to life on the page.  The imagination and creativity in terms of the place created and the magical possibilities within are just amazing.  Caraval itself is a deliciously wicked conundrum.  Nothing is ever as it seems,  roads never lead to where you think, dark is day and light is night, bridges never begin and end at the same place twice, clock shops are shortcuts to wherever and dresses and gowns can be paid for using memories or other strange means.  Secrets and lies and yet more secrets and lies.  Subterranean tunnels, exotic palaces and sumptuous details.  Put bluntly I found this a magical read and I was captivated.  On top of that the pacing was excellent and assisted by the tick tock looming and ever-approaching-faster-deadline in which to solve the mystery I found myself almost as desperate as Scarlett for the next clues to be uncovered.

In terms of the characters.  We have the tyrannical father – he was a bit of a cliche and I never fully understood what motivated him to be so cruel but in terms of being the big bad wolf of the piece he definitely fits the bill.  Scarlett, I liked her.  She isn’t a kick ass female and I’d say she spends a lot of time paying attention to her magical attire but I liked that she wasn’t perfect to be honest.  She didn’t really understand the nature of the game being played at Caraval and found it difficult to be duplicitous enough to actually make any real headway. Basically, she makes plenty of mistakes that leave you shaking your head and she’s not above needing some help -although to be honest how much help she received in real terms is negotiable.  Tella, it’s really difficult to say too much about her without giving away plot points and having finished the book with all it’s twists and turns I think my earlier feelings about her may have been a little unfair and need revising because on first impressions she certainly wasn’t my favourite.  All I can say, without giving more away, is that you really do have to read to the end for certain elements to be fully revealed and to have your final lightbulb moment.  I must say that I was pleased to be wrong on a number of occasions in terms of where the author took the story – I just didn’t see a number of the twists at all and the ending really took me by surprise.

Then we have the love interest element. Everything here is not quite as it seems and you never know whether you can trust what you’re reading.  I’m not going to elaborate, even though there is a little bit of instalove I thought it was written in a very subtle way and it certainly didn’t steal the show in fact if I’m going to be a total brazen hussy about it I wouldn’t have minded more of this element as it was well done.

I was very pleasantly surprised by Caraval.  Why surprised?  Well, I sometimes find YA a little hit and miss – especially when I read a book where I have countless questions and not  enough answers.  I didn’t experience this with Caraval.  I was so entranced by the spectacle that I felt at times as though I was experiencing it with Scarlett.  There’s a history both to the show and Master Legend and his beginnings that is woven into the story.  In fairness there’s not a great deal of in depth examination about the magical aspects but personally I didn’t really mind.  Sometimes you question these things and sometimes they just feel acceptable without any explanation.

So, on the whole a very enjoyable, well crafted, fairytale style story about two sisters who surprised not only themselves but also took me by surprise too.

Lynn Williams
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