Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber


Publication: January 31st 2017
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Pages:  407 pages
Source: Bookmobile
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤

“Decent people…always believe other people can be virtuous…” (Garber 249).

It’s one of 2017’s hottest books, and after many weeks of it mysteriously disappearing in the library catalogue, and getting through my horrifically long TBR Pile, I’ve finally read it. And guess what…I LOVED IT! Mostly, but we’ll get to the mostly part later.

Scarlett Dragna has always wanted to see Caraval, the mysterious magical annual event where people can participate in the game. But now that she’s to be married to a mysterious count, her dreams of seeing Caraval are over, but at least it means she and her sister Tella will be safe from their abusive father. But Tella has other plans and whisks her away to Caraval with the help of a handsome sailor named Julian. But once on the mysterious island that holds the event Scarlett loses her sister and finds out that finding Tella is the game of this year’s Caraval.  As Scarlett gets deeper and deeper into the game, she must ask herself how much of the game she is playing is a game, and how much of it is is real and much darker than she could have imagined.

A lot of comparison has been given to Caraval with Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and it’s a worthy comparison because if you liked one of these books you will definitely like the other. Both works are filled with magic and suck readers into a world where anything is possible, where magic can be sinister and beautiful and can change the lives of those lucky enough to touch it.

Like The Night Circus, I really disliked the main character. Scarlett is just so dang naive, so annoyingly virtuous (which, hey, it’s okay to be virtuous, but her character kept making me think of the Chastity lecture I had to attend in grade nine in (Catholic) high school.), and has such a martyr complex! At one point (no page numbers because I had to return the book to the library) Scarlett talks about how she knows Tella doesn’t love her as much as Scarlett does because she spent to much time protecting and coddling her when their mother left and now Tella is spoiled because of it. Like jeez Scarlett, calm down for a second! I get that you’ve had a pretty crap life, but that doesn’t mean you can say things like that about your sister!

Aside from her name reminding me of a Ninja Turtle (Donatella…hehehe), I really liked Tella until the end of the book (keep on reading to see why my opinion of most characters changed by the end). I liked her spunk, her wit, and her strength. I loved her deep love for Scarlett (which Scarlett DOESN’T THINK EXISTS) and how she was unafraid to fight against her father, her rights, and for Scarlett to get a chance to live her dreams, even if it meant putting herself at risk.

And I really liked the Julian readers were introduced to at the beginning. The sarcastic, witty, asshole because GOD DAMN I HAVE A THING FOR THEM FICTIONALLY WHY?! It was fun getting to read about him, what he was going to do next, and trying to unravel the mystery around him, a mystery which was really (and unfortunately) kind of disappointing when revealed.

With such similar atmospheres between the books, one can’t help but expect both to follow the same path and keep readers entranced long after the story ends. Unfortunately, Caraval’s strange turning point at the end completely changed the flavour of the novel as a whole for me.

When The Night Circus ended, I was sad to be away from the magic of the world, but I could still feel it because the circus keeps travelling, keeps spreading it’s magic to those who find it, and that magic circles every time I reread the book. When Caraval ended, it felt as if a warm blanket of magic that Garber made was pulled off me and I was left cold. With the revelation that much of the game, or at least the game in this story, was scripted, it felt as though the magic had disappeared, which doesn’t make sense because it’s repeated in the story that the magic at Caraval is very much real. And I tried to remind myself that, that like The Night Circus the magic of Caraval was real and that I could restart the book and be swept away again, but I knew it wasn’t true. Because in The Night Circus the characters grew and developed but they were themselves, the characters that I read about, learned, and loved were the same to the very end. This doesn’t happen in Caraval. Everything you thought about most of the characters gets turned on it’s head, and it left a sour taste in my mouth, left me shivering, and really left me wondering whether or not I will continue the series.

In the end, I think I will. Garber is an incredibly talented writer and so much of her prose is just so beautiful to read; “Death was the colour purple,” or how Aiko looked “[l]ike a teardrop the moon had cried” (Garber 213, 264). And there’s still so much left to know about what exactly Tella bargained for, what will happen to the sisters and if they will return to Trisda or stay with Caraval, and who exactly is Legend?

Despite it’s faults, Caraval is a story of magic that for the most part kept me enchanted and spellbound. I hope it’s sequels make me feel the way I did when first reading, and make the magic of Caraval alive again.


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