Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

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Caraval, by Stephanie Garber

Pages: 416

Published: 31 January 2017

⭐️ 2.5 / 5

(TW – This book contains themes of abuse and rape)

This debut YA fantasy oozes magic and potential. The plot grips from the beginning, with its setting of a magical fantasy island and two sisters who immediately seem to have each other’s backs in the abusive family setting they begin with. The concept is very intriguing with a game set up like a circus, including troops of travelling performers, with a prize that money truly can’t buy. The allure of the mysterious character, Legend, and Scarlett and Tella’s unravelling family history are threaded through the narrative keeping you wanting to turn the next page as quickly as possible. This drive became very important motivation for me as I found Garber became repetitive. I’m not sure if this was supposed to be some sort of reinforcement as a plot device, but it quickly became irritating and the outcomes became very predictable as a result. The plot threads kept me going and allowed me to enjoy the book for the most part, however at times it felt like this book had middle-grade writing but with YA / NA themes.  

The detail Stephanie Garber has put into the magic of this world is immense and is a huge strength of this book. The particular detail put into the outfits really is something else – and I’d really like to get myself one of those shape-shifting dresses. Caraval is narrated in third person but following Scarlett’s point of view which sees her describing emotions in terms of colours. Initially this is an interesting plot device and one that I really enjoyed, however the further through the book I got the more this became irritating as it seemed that was the only tool Garber was using. This is such a shame because the plot, and elements of the writing, carry so much potential which I feel is unfulfilled.

Garber has created some complex, layered characters which the book really benefits from. Julian is a particular favourite of mine. I spent a lot of the book simply trying to figure him out. His motivations, who he was…my opinions and theories were all over the place and it was great. Scarlett however, is a wet flannel of a character. She has no agency and spends the entire novel dithering. It’s not endearing, and this trait seems to serve no purpose. She doesn’t falter between two options rather she can’t decide whether to do something or do nothing at all. A quarter of the novel could be cut if this was all removed and she just got on with things. This doesn’t change throughout the book and I can detect no sort of character development in her. I hope this doesn’t continue throughout the series because the events that happen to Scarlett are character shaping and changing so should mould her into an excellent character. Tella is a FAR more interesting character however she is hardly in this book at all. Again, I hope this will change moving forwards in the series.

Despite my reservations and irritations about Caraval, I will be reading the rest of this series to see where things go. At its heart this book is geared towards being a heartwarming story about the love between sisters however so far, for me, this has not lived up to the hype.

Blurb:

Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems.
Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year, week-long performance where the audience participates in the show. Caraval is magic, mystery adventure and for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father. When Scarlett discovers her father has arranged a marriage for her she believes all her hopes of escape have been dashed.
Then the sisters’ long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive and it seems their dreams have come true. Yet, no sooner have they entered the confines of Caraval than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.
Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. Real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.

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