Caraval (Caraval #1) by Stephanie Garber (2017)


YA Fiction | Fantasy
2.5 Stars

“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.”

pooled ink Review:

Going into this book I had conflicted feelings. My hopes had been pretty high for this story but one of my best friends read it before me and couldn’t hold back her frustration with the ending. I still hoped that we’d feel differently, which I suppose we do, yet when I finally sent her a text message letting her know I’d finished reading Caraval she immediately demanded my thoughts and we discussed the ending. I sort of went hmmmm uhhhhh welllll and she replied with: “Honestly Tella can die in a hole.” I gotta be honest, I laughed out loud when I read that simple summation of exactly how she felt. And I feel no rushing desire to defend the poor well-intentioned Tella.

Okay so let’s dive into my own thoughts, shall we?

My first (and perhaps only) problem with it is completely my own fault and it’s simply that I didn’t get that magic spark that connects a reader to a story. Sooo many people have fallen in love with this book and I’m genuinely happy for them but I guess it was my turn to miss out on what’s trending in the book world, to be left out on a book collecting the hearts of many. Well, I guess everyone can’t like everything because that would be strange. But I’d really hoped…

Truly the whole concept had me swooning and I was excited for this book to be published even before reviewers started tweeting about receiving ARCs for it. I mean anything with magic and carnivals and actors and magicians…I love it all.

We begin the story with two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who quickly abscond to Caraval. This year Caraval takes place on Legend’s private island, a place of splendor, magnificence, and dreams made too real. Garber undoubtedly creates a very magical world for Caraval that is beautiful, unnerving, enchanting, and dangerous all in one. There were some truly magical scenes and ideas throughout the book but I just couldn’t get connected to it, I couldn’t lose myself in the madness and unfortunately without that spark all the magic reduces to colors and lights, smoke and mirrors, faces and noise.

Tella quickly disappears from the pages leaving Scarlett to follow worriedly behind searching for her reckless sister. The relationship between Scarlett and Tella somewhat reminded me of Sense & Sensibility – the cautious older sister constantly looking out for the more free spirited and slightly naïve younger sister. But Scarlett is choked by her fear and Tella is more daring than any could guess.

Aiko was an interesting character, although Dante rather puzzled me. Julian however was a likeable lead indeed. He has many secrets though and I won’t spoil it for you but I will say that when we learn of one particular secret at quite a crucial moment in the game it’s rather disappointing (not the secret itself but what it means).

Although, his ending is far more forgivable and understandable than Tella’s in my opinion (my friend would stubbornly argue that both should be tossed into the ocean). When the end came along I was dumbstruck, not from being surprised or shocked but just…WHAT THE HECK, TELLA??? I felt horrible for Scarlett and all that she was put through to win this “game” of Legend’s. Legend really is a master of games and manipulations. As hard as Scarlett tried it soon became maddening and impossible to separate the real from the act. I feel so bad for poor Scarlett. I mean in many ways Caraval made her stronger, braver, freer, but there’s no way it didn’t also traumatize her a little.

What happens beyond this gate may frighten or excite you, but don’t let any of it trick you.

Okay then, Legend, I’ll keep my reality hat on. This should only have lasted for the beginning but the whirlwind of events didn’t manage to blow it off my head. I unfortunately remained aware and detached from both the story and the characters.

I’m a little disappointed with myself because they warn Scarlett several times to remember it’s all just a game and it seems as if this is supposed to psych you out because you’re like “okay then” but suddenly things start becoming odder and odder and even a touch frightening and things start spiraling out of control and becoming undeniably real, it must be real, it’s far too real to possibly be a trick. But that dizzying spin of adrenaline and emotions just didn’t happen for me. I liked this book but it didn’t thrill me like I’d hoped it would. I wanted it to mess with my head and twist me with mind games until the end when surely Scarlett would escape and everything would turn out alright.

And it did.

And it didn’t.

So while this book had a colorful plot full of magical tricks and chilling twists that flipped reality and fiction like a tossed coin or a pea being shuffled between three overturned cups, I didn’t get swept away. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry but I just didn’t. I will not say anything bad about this book except that I was not very pleased with the ending. I get that it was supposed to be shocking and utterly unexpected but I didn’t gasp or squeal in surprise and I believe it’s only because I wasn’t connected from the beginning. I didn’t care. I didn’t feel attached or invested. I was a mildly curious bystander.

Ugh such a blunt way to say it but it’s true. So please, if you want to give this book a go then by all means dive in and love it. I wish I could be there with you. It’s just…

I keep trying to explain myself, to dampen the blow of my disappointed feelings and I’m sorry I keep rambling so. This book really is magical and whimsical but dark and dangerous. It’s full of thrills and trials and love. It just didn’t quite steal my soul.

Caraval tells a tale of magic and desire. It forces one sister to face her deepest fears and another to shatter all illusions. Caraval was meant to dazzle and delight but Scarlett is quick to realize Master Legend has darker strings to pull and play. Colorful, imaginative, entrancing, and unsettling, Caraval is an exciting story about two sisters and the lengths to which they’ll go to save one another.


amazon icon_tiny Purchase here: Caraval

Similar Recommended Reads: Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley,  Shadows of the Forest by Emma Michaels, Kurios by Cirque du Soleil

Meet Stephanie Garber!

Stephanie Garber

When I’m not writing, I teach creative writing at a private college in Northern California, where I’ve been known to turn assignments into games and take students on field trips that involve book signings.

To help pay my bills during college, grad school, and the breaks in between, I worked as a barista, a waitress, a bartender, a customer service representative for an energy consulting company, and as a sales girl at Bath and Bodyworks. I also spent years working with youth; I worked as a counselor at space themed summer camp, volunteered at a school for deaf children in Mexico, and I took multiple groups of college students overseas to spend their winter vacations serving at youth hostels in Amsterdam. But out of everything that I’ve done, writing young adult novels has been my favorite job.
-Stephani Garber’s Website

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4 thoughts on “Caraval

    1. Haha I get it. But if you do get around to reading it let me know what you think (: I’ve heard lots of different thoughts and I’m currently a bit on the fence as to what could happen in the sequel and whether or not I’ll read it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I tend to be a big sequel fan even if I wasn’t over the moon with the book. I’m planning on reading the sequel to Stealing Snow even though I really didn’t like it, mainly bc of that cliffhanger ending!

        Liked by 1 person

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