Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy  

Publishing Info: KindleEdition, January 2017 by Hodder and Stoughton

Pages: 416

Star Rating: 2/5

Back Cover Summary:

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.

I was very conflicted over how to rate and review this book. I’ve had Caraval on my Kindle for a little while and was excited to finally get round to reading it. So many people love this series and the concept sounded really intriguing. Unfortunately I didn’t love it from the start. I didn’t enjoy the first half all that much, but things picked up in the second half and I found myself a lot more absorbed.

I can’t quite place my finger on why, but for some reason I just wasn’t hooked from the opening few chapters. Even once Scarlett reached Caraval, I didn’t feel engaged. I was expected to be enchanted by this story, but in the first half I was actually a little bored. I found Scarlet to be an irritating protagonist at the start. Her thoughts were very repetitive and I just didn’t connect with her character. She didn’t want to be there. So I didn’t want to be there. I think if Scarlett had been more excited about the magic and wonder of Caraval, I would have been too.

Scarlett’s focus is on finding Tella and there is some jeopardy around that, but we don’t get to know Tella that well at the beginning of the book, so I wasn’t really invested in the goal of finding her. I liked that she isn’t the cliché sweet sister, but I didn’t find her particularly likeable from what little we see of her before she disappears, so I just wasn’t worried about her. Later we do get to see there is more to Tella, but for most of the book I didn’t like her character.

The setting and the magic is enchanting and intriguing. I liked how you don’t pay for anything with money in Caraval, but rather with intangible things like your worst fear or the most recent lie you told. But I didn’t really feel absorbed by this magical world at first because Scarlett just didn’t want to be there which created a barrier between me and the world of Caraval. I became more enchanted as the book went on though.   

In the second half, Scarlett gets more involved in the game and I was much more engaged in the story. I also loved the scenes with Scarlett and Julian as they get to know each other. The pace picks up and there are quite a few twists which kept me guessing. Stephanie Garber even had me questioning what was real and what was part of the game along with Scarlett towards the end which was very suspenseful.

The second half definitely redeemed this book, and I’m glad I carried on reading it despite my lukewarm feelings at the beginning. The concept and world is different from other YA fantasy I’ve read so that was a big plus. The epilogue has an intriguing hook for the sequel, so might carry on with this series. If this book sounds like something you’d enjoy, I’d say give it a go despite my not very positive review. I just don’t think this book was for me, but others will love it.

Have you read Caraval? What did you think? I’d love to know how others feel about this one!

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

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