Author: Stephanie Garber
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Caraval by Stephanie Garber seems to be everywhere online, and rightly so. It’s a thrilling, addictive adventure that blends the thrill of a circus with the unpredictability and adventure of magic. Much like the game within its pages, Caraval encourages its audience, its readers, to take part in the story unfolding before them, guessing as to what will happen next. It’s a book in which no-one, or thing, is quite what they seem and everything should be taken with a pinch of salt. After all, it’s only a game.
Caraval follows two sisters who have grown up in the care of an abusive father, with only the stories their grandmother told them of the magical Caraval for comfort. After trying for years, they finally get tickets to participate in the annual, week-long event, only for one to be kidnapped as soon as they arrive. Scarlett must play against time, and the other competitors, in order to find her sister before the clock runs out. Fortunately (or not), she’s helped by the dashing, yet mysterious, Julian.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. While it did take a little while to kick off at the beginning, I was fully invested throughout the entire game portion of the text. What’s more, it took me by surprise numerous times. I usually find myself able to guess twists in books before they happen, but, with the exception of one occasion, I was caught out each and every time. It made reading this book even more exciting and I really enjoyed seeing what would happen next.
I really enjoyed Scarlett as the main character of this book, she really felt real and had believable reactions to everything that was happening around her. More so, she was the only character where you felt you really knew her true motives, and even that belief was tested at times. Her relationships with both her sister, Tella, and Julian were really interesting. While the former was not really seen so much throughout the book, due to Tella disappearing, you really got a sense of what the girls meant to each other, and how their very different personalities counter-balanced one another. Julian, on the other hand, was a foil to Scarlett’s reticence. He forced her out of her shell and really allowed her character to develop throughout the book. While his personality was difficult to capture, and his motives even more so, I loved the dynamic he and Scarlett had together.
However, while those three really captured the book for me, the secondary characters felt a little bit more flat. I can appreciate why they might not have been delved into too much, mostly due to their roles within the book and the game, but I really struggled to remember them as I was reading, and this did lose a bit of the magic for me. The father was also really difficult to picture and the scenes he was involved in were some of my least favourite of the book and not just for content. I really struggled to see him as a three-dimensional person and there are certain scenes which really should have been painful to read for what they were but that ended up just feeling a little forced and disconnected. This was really disappointing, as I felt a lot could have been done with his character and how he acted towards his daughters but it just didn’t work as well as it could have done.
Caraval’s world is one I would love to explore more of, particularly outside of the game, to learn more about the history and the people in it. Understandably, we don’t see much of it due to the book mostly taking place in the game, but all I can picture of the outside world is a selection of islands. With the richness and depth that Garber describes Caraval itself, I have the feeling that her descriptions of the rest of the world would be magnificent.
The magic depicted in this book is incredibly intriguing. Although I don’t quite understand the rules of it, it really made the game all the more exciting and added an extra element to the book that really brought it to life. Caraval really captured my imagination and held so many possibilities of things to explore. Garber did a great job of providing glimpses of things that existed in the world, but only really focusing on the areas that were important to the story. This allowed me to imagine the world in greater detail and I found myself right there with Scarlett as I read.
Caraval is a book I devoured. It was magical and exciting, with a main character that brought a touch of realism to the fantastical world she finds herself in. While there were parts which I found let the book down, it was a book that captured my attention and made me wish I existed in the world I was reading about. Caraval certainly lives up to the hype that I’ve seen surrounding it and that is a feat indeed.
Caraval is out now.