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Caraval is Stephanie Garber’s break-out novel, released on January 31, 2016, and it is a fabulous one, rich with detail and intrigue. Described as spell-binding, enchangting and decadent, Caraval certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . . Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved 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 far-away, 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. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.
As far as debut novels go, Caraval is as strong as they come; Stephanie Garber crafted a magnificent, magical piece here. Stephanie Garber presents readers with a sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.Right from the get-go, readers will be hooked by Scarlett and Tella, and by the intrigue of the mysterious Caraval, and Master Legend, its fabled ruler.
Scarlett and Tella are headstrong and spirited, but cowed by their father’s chronic abuse. Afraid to act out for fear their father will hurt Tella, Scarlett is prepared to turn down her long awaited invitation to Caraval to keep her sister safe, and secure her marriage. But Tella, and her strapping suitor, Julian, have other plans, and they quickly whisk her off, successfully escaping her father’s wrath and her impending nuptials. But once they arrive at Caraval, Tella vanishes, leaving Scarlett, with Julian’s help, to seek her out. Caraval isn’t all that it seems, though, and neither is Julian, leaving Scarlett reeling as she desperately seeks answers, thwarting those who would stop her, and dodging danger, seemingly at every turn. That being said, it is evident that the plot of Caraval was fast-paced, engaging, and winding. The breakneck pace of Caraval was highly engaging, and drew the reader in nearly immediately. Garber resisted info-dumping, which can be a double-edged sword – while she ensured her reader’s were engaged, she did leave a bit to be desired when it come to setting descriptions and character background (though she slowly filled in the gaps throughout the novel, as needed). In addition, the winding, whimsical nature of the story was fascinating, albeit a bit confusing at times. This can be in part attributed to Garder’s minimalist descriptions, and in part attributed to the completely unexplained and seemingly undefined magic system within Caraval. However, while sometimes frustrating, this added an additional element of mystique to Caraval, and I have the feeling that this particular omission was entirely intentional.
Scarlett and Julian were arguably the main characters in this tale, with Tella absent for the vast majority of the adventure. The two are both hard-headed and passionate, and spend much of their time pushing against one another, which just lands Scarlett in increasingly more trouble. Scarlett, for her part, is inquisitive, but can be frustratingly hard-headed and naive, which will leave the reader banging their head off the book more than once. Julia is mysterious, but frustratingly so, and the two of them quickly become infuriating. However, their cat and mouse game, leading towards a proper romance that will leave readers wanting more.
- The mystery of Julian’s background was perhaps my favourite part of Caraval. Fromt he get-go, the reader knows there’s more to the roguish sailor than meets the eye. Is he Legend? Just another player with a vendetta? Scarlett’s mysterious fiance? Garber does a fantastic job playing all the angles, leaving the reader constantly second guessing just who they think Julian is – and every time you think you’ve got it figured out, Garber drops another twist leaving you doubting your own presumptions.
Finally, Caraval hits on a pretty hard topic, even though it is not the central focus of the plot. Abuse, or more specifically, abuse of one’s child, is always at the forefront or in the periphery of the tale, influencing everything Scarlett and, ultimately, Tella do. Fromt he beginning, it is revealed that their father is cruel, punishing the girls by beating the one sister while the one who misbehaved is forced to watch. He has killed before to punish them, and he is not above death threats, especially when it comes to keeping Scarlett in line. The girls are cowed by his abuse, and dream of an escape they have long since given up attempting. Once at Caraval, Scarlett is haunted by her fear of her father, and his rage should he hunt them down and punish them for their escape. Scarlett displays symptoms one might expect of a victim of abuse – shying away from others when angry, and irrational fears of her abuser during times of safety. Personally, I felt that Garber did a good job tackling this topic, which can be hard to talk about, never mind infuse into an already complex story.
In conclusion, Caraval is an exceptionally strong first novel from a new author, and I was very excited that it will not be the end of the line for these characters or this particular story. Garber’s writing style and the quality of the story made Caraval hard to put down, and definitely left me wanting more! (4.5/5)