Author: Stephanie Garber
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication Date: January 31, 2017
Genre(s): Young Adult, Fantasy
Source: Purchased from Book Store
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I seriously did not believe this was a debut novel. Stephanie Garber created such a fun magical world; it would have been easy to believe she’s been writing YA Fantasy for years.
This story is similar to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (one I definitely need to check it out) as both feature a pop-up circus/show/carnival or sorts. I haven’t read Night Circus, so I don’t know how similar the two are, but I have seen some BookTubers discuss the (surface) similarities of the two.
Also the cover is beyond gorgeous!
Scarlett has never left the small island where her and her sister, Donatella (Tella), live with their ruthless father. As a girl, she dreamed of attending Caraval, a legendary, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show. After her father arraigned for her to marry, Scarlett believes her dreams of attending Caravel are over. To her surprise, an invitation to Caraval finally arrives. Cautious of her father’s wrath, Scarlett decides not to go. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. However, shortly after the trio arrives, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mysterious mastermind and organizer, Legend. Forced to play to get her sister back, Scarlett becomes immersed in the game, encountering love, heartbreak, and magic; causing the reader to forget…it’s only a game.
Disclaimer: In order to properly discuss this book, pertinent plot points will be discussed. Potential spoilers ahead.
Honestly, I really liked this book. I thought the plot was super fast paced and I completed the book in a couple of days. I loved the overarching theme of sisterhood and that it was the hunt to find Tella that primarily drove the plot. I thought Scarlett was an enjoyable character to read. Many of her motives felt believable, especially those revolving around protecting Tella. One thing I did not like was how she became fairly hypocritical towards the end of the story. When she finds Tella in the room and warns her about Legend, Tella talks about how she found love and plans to marry and run off with Daniel (at this point thought to be Legend in disguise). Scarlett’s instant reaction is that Tella was not able to find love in such a short amount of time, despite falling in love with (and mourning the loss of) Julian in the same short period of time. I get that she was trying to keep Tella out of (what she thought) was Legend’s trap, but it still read as hypocritical.
I honestly loved Julian. I thought he was well written and the perfect contrast to Scarlett. I also liked how the romance between Scarlett and Julian was more flirtatious until the last 3rd or so of the book. This kept the story focused on the Scarlett playing the game and on finding Tella, rather than on Scarlett and Julian’s romance. That being said, the places where the romance came in were placed perfectly.
I hated Tella’s character. I thought that she was far too selfish and incredibly manipulative. She claims that she did everything for Scarlett, however, it didn’t read that way. I particularly didn’t like how she staked everything on faking her suicide and that Scarlett’s love would bring her back.
I thought the side characters were such fun editions to the world. Reading about the different personalities and motivations was super enjoyable. At first, I hated Dante and thought that it would be revealed that he was Scarlett’s fiancé. I’m really happy the book did not go down this route, as it would have been overly clichéd and would have distracted from other, more pertinent plot devices.
I LOVED the magical world that was created. The bargaining system in Caraval was so clever. When Scarlett first gave up two days from her life, I too thought that the debt was going to be collected towards the end of her life, not in the middle of the game. The people that Scarlett met and reading the decisions she was making was so enticing. The entire time I was reading, I was dreaming about being a part of this mystical world.
The only thing I really didn’t like about this book was the ending. I thought that it was a cop-out and that it didn’t really match the tone of the rest of the book. First, to find out it was Tella, not Legend that was running (well manipulating) the majority of that year’s game felt like a betrayal. This character was teased about the entire book and I was looking forward to a confrontation with him. Here’s to hoping he’s one of the main characters in the sequel. I also didn’t like that everyone came back. I get that the entire story Scarlett was warned that it was just a game and that nothing was real, but having everyone returns at the end just felt wrong. As morbid as this sounds, I think it would have been (tragically) stronger to have either Tella or Julian not make it, or at least be perceived as dead until the next novel. The ending as just reads as a cliché “and just kidding everything was found and they all lived happily ever after” ending which just felt out of place when compared to the originality of the novel. Lastly, I didn’t like the fake-out suicide or almost-rape scene. They honestly felt unnecessary (well, arguably on the latter as it demonstrated how deplorable the father was and proved to Scarlett that Tella was correct and her fiancé was only appearing nice on paper) and the plot could have been moved along using a different format.
It was nice to have the story dominated by a love triangle, though!
Overall, I would recommend this book. I think a lot of fans of YA fantasy and whimsical, mystery-ish books would really enjoy this one. I am excited for the sequel and I hope that it may fix some of the problems I had with this book.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ – 3/5