Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Monday, May 01, 2017

Date started: April 17
Date finished: April 24
Book 35/52 in 2017. 
Rating: 3 stars

I wasn't CRAZY about Caraval, even though I've been waiting for more than a month for it to be my turn to check it out at the library. It was definitely enjoyable and intoxicating at times, but I stumbled over the storyline so often and found myself getting as confused by the magic as Scarlett was getting mystified by it. Just when I thought I knew what was up, it changed on me.

I'm sure that was the entire purpose of Caraval, but it didn't thrill me on every page. I'm still not entirely sure I understand everything that happened, but maybe typing up this review in the dark of my flight to Sacramento will help clear my mind.

Anywho, here's the Goodreads synopsis.

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.

Read ahead at your own risk. There will be ~spoilers~.


Wow, wow, wow. Caraval was beautifully told. The world TKTK built was so easy to envision, and I loved the descriptions of people and magic and the game. You could tell TKTK was so thoroughly immersed in her world, and she brought you in, page by page, word by word. Beautiful prose, check.

But there's the catch – it was sometimes so beautiful, I stumbled. I missed something. Maybe something I was supposed to miss, maybe something important that would've made another moment make more sense to me. I got caught up and had to reread often.


Scarlett and Julian are two of my favorite fantasy characters that I've encountered this year, and the attraction that develops between them, while fast-paced, feels OK to me because who wouldn't fall in love faster when magic was involved? I bought that.

And Scarlett is so beautifully complex. The way she struggles between loving her sister and wanting to be loved and safe – because she feels like she can't put her own life above Tella's – really stuck out to me. And she was just so darn smart. She didn't need help from anyone to get where she needed to go, and she listened to those around her. And that's why she solved the game.

Sort of?



And that leads me to... wait, whaaaaat?

Here's the good: I loved the IDEA of Caraval. The magic. Legend. Buying a dress or your fortune with your secrets. It was all so fascinating and just plain COOL.

But, like, what the heck happened? Julian was dead... then he wasn't? Tella has the most CLIMACTIC death... and then she's suddenly not?

The letters between Tella and Legend didn't clear up nearly as much for me as they did for Scarlett, so I finished Caraval with nothing but question marks. It marred the otherwise beautiful experience of reading the story.

I get it, I get it. I'm not SUPPOSED to know what was real and what was part of the game. That's the game. And by reading this, I was playing the game. But seriously. I needed a few breadcrumbs to make it out without a brain freeze.


• This is so small and petty. BUT Scarlett knew that Dante's sister had been turned to stone, and Dante thought she was dead. She saw her in the store, turned to stone because she had tried to steal. She never told anyone. That bothered me multiple times when it was clear they were worried about her. (Obviously, they WEREN'T worried about her, in the end.)

• I never quite bought why the father, Governor Dragna, is SO horrid, even if he crumpled and hardened after he lost his wife. Maybe we will learn more in the next installment (assuming the final letter makes it pretty obvious there will be more), especially if it involves their mother. But his cruelty seems more like a necessary plot point than a character trait, and I never understand or believe it. It could never be justifiable, but I'd like to understand why a father would beat one daughter to punish the other.


• Also a small detail, but wasn't the description of Scarlett's dress wonderful? I loved that it had a mind of its own and like to think it was Tella's idea – she, too, had a mind of her own.

• This story was excellent in that it could handle a serious romance and a strong sibling bond at the same time. I don't think it's easy – because no matter which you prefer to read about, you spend half the book wondering when you can get back to the relationship you care about. But I cared about both, deeply.

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