Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Book One of the Caraval series
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication Date: January 31, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.
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.
What I Liked:
I admit - even though I'm reading this book more than a month ahead of the publication date, I was massively afraid of being let down by the hype. This book has an incredible amount of hype surrounding it, and it's scary when that is the case. I actually got a copy of the book months ago, for review, but I've been pushing it off because of, well, the hype. This book has gotten overwhelmingly positive reviews, and when that happens, I get scared.
Thankfully, I had nothing to be scared of. This book was nowhere near disappointing or over-hyped. For anyone in a similar situation as me (feeling discouraged because of the ridiculous amount of hype), know that the hype is one hundred percent worth it. This book deserves the insane marketing plan and campaign behind it, because it. Is. Amazing.
Scarlett and her younger sister Tella have lived their entire lives on the Conquered Isles, under their father's tyrannical keeping. Their father has arranged a secretive marriage for Scarlett, which is coming up soon. But something surprising happens - Scarlett is sent an invitation with three tickets to Caraval. Scarlett has written letters to Legend, the organizer of Caraval for years, and he has finally invited her, her sister, and a third guest. Getting off the island and to the island hosing Caraval is one obstacle; navigating Caraval is another. When Tella goes missing before Caraval even begins, Scarlett knows something else is afoot. She must play the game in hopes of finding her sister, who has been captured. The game is not as fantastical as one thinks - it is a game of life and death.
I can definitely see why people would compare this book to The Night Circus - a book I absolutely loved. Both have a magical, mesmerizing quality to them. But while The Night Circus was geared towards general fiction audiences, Caraval seems to be marketed as Young Adult (and rightfully so). Caraval, to me, was even more exciting and breathtaking, though I think the originality and the world-building of The Night Circus made it wholly unique. But the entrancing quality of Caraval made Caraval its own beast - and by beast, I mean sensation.
Scarlett is seventeen and only a year older than her troublesome, mischievous, impulsive sister. Scarlett is much more cautious and selfless. I adored Scarlett from the start; her devotion to her sister is inspiring and humbling. Throughout the entire book, Scarlett never stops looking for Tella. She never stops fighting and hoping.
That being said, I love seeing Scarlett grow, as the story progresses. She doesn't really realize just how strong she is, in the beginning of the story. Years of her father beating her and breaking her have made her very strong and capable. She seems docile and soft, but the game of Caraval really makes her spine and her nerve show. I wouldn't say that Scarlett is a sworld-wielding kickbutt warrior that we see so often in YA fantasy; but she is resilient and very intelligent, quietly strong with an iron core. She is vulnerable and yet so tough.
I love the bond between the sisters. A sister bond is something we see every now and then in YA books, but such a bond that dictates and dominates the story? Very rare. I really felt how much Scarlett loved her sister. Tella... well, we don't see a ton of Tella in the story. But Scarlett definitely loves Tella more than Tella loves Scarlett, and Scarlett is more ready to give up everything for Tella. Still, the bond between the girls is very strong. I love seeing this representation of sisterhood.
I hated how their father hurt them, and how his abuse shaped them and forced them to make difficult decisions. But the abuse made them stronger as human beings, and as sisters. This aspect of the book was heartbreaking, but it was uplifting to see Scarlett find her strength.
Julian is the third ticket-holder of the story, and in my book, a very important primary character. The story is told entirely from Scarlett's first-person POV, but I would argue to say that Julian is just as important as Scarlett. He comes across as a pirate and a scoundrel, being as charming and as flirtatious as he is. But we come to find out that he isn't a scoundrel - he's actually a kind and noble young man who really wants to help Scarlett. He is clever and wicked and full of secrets. I loved him from the start, though we meet him in a weird situation, at first. Don't read too much into that situation! You'll see what I mean, as you read on. It's not what you think!
As for the romance - I honestly didn't expect Scarlett and Julian to develop feelings for each other - not at first! I mean, after the second or third interaction between the pair, yes, but not after the initial interaction. Julian and Scarlett are such a good match; Julian pushes Scarlett, and he's a steady presence (though a wickedly charming one, at that). Scarlett worries a lot and Julian being there for her was so sweet (and hilarious sometimes). Their interactions were wonderful and heart-warming, and I honestly wish there were more. I loved watching them fall for each other, especially Scarlett. She tries to deny and push away those feelings, but they grow.
It's a slow-burn, swoony and seductive romance! And there is no love triangle. N o o o o love triangle. No insta-love either, for that matter. I love how the relationship develops! They begin to trust each other (though again, Julian is full of secrets), and then it's clear that they are falling for each other. While it was a slowly developing romance, it was so subtly swoony. And not an overwhelming romance in the story (for better or for worse).
Once the first fifty pages or so passed, I was utterly hooked. It's around the fifty-page mark or so that Julian and Scarlett enter Caraval, and that's where things get really interesting. I'm so pleased with how engrossing the story is! It gets twisted and surprising as the book goes on. Every time you think you have something figured out, the story goes in another direction, even if it's a slight change.
I feel like this goes without saying, but I was fascinated by the world of Caraval. Stephanie Garber really gets the world-building right, and complete. I never felt lost in the history of the game, or in the setting itself. I could lose myself in Caraval, that's for sure! It's a twisted place, and Garber crafts and structures it extremely well. Her writing is also very sweeping, in general!
The ending is definitely not the ending of a standalone! Not that this is a standalone - I believe there will be one sequel. (The original book deal is for a two-book series, but you never know.) While I like the ending (it's shocking, a tiny bit sad, but very satisfying), I'm excited to see where the story will go next. The ending isn't quite a cliffhanger, but it left me wanting. I need more!
What I Did Not Like:
Nothing specific I can think of! I hope the next book continues to follow Scarlett - though I have a feeling it will follow Tella as well. But I want more of Scarlett, Julian, and Scarlett & Julian (if you know what I mean)!
Would I Recommend It:
I hiiighly recommend this book! Yes, it's incredibly hyped and there are so many positive reviews and fangirling and squealing. But all of that is completely justified. I can definitely see the appeal, and the book appeals to me as well. This seductive debut is sure to bring you to the edge of your seat!
4.5 stars. I'm a little undecided as to if I want to round up or down, so for now I'll round down. I'm not too nervous about book two - in fact I am extremely excited and slightly bummed that it's going to be a loooong time before I can get my hands on book two. But that will give me plenty of time to reread Caraval and push it on others! Let the world of Caraval sweep you away!
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