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Book Review: Caraval (Stephanie Garber)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Hodder & Staughton

Pages: 416

Release Date: January 31st 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Before you enter the world of Caraval, you must remember that it’s all a game . . .

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their ruthless father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the legendary, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

Then, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation to Caraval finally arrives. So, Tella enlists a mysterious sailor’s help to whisk Scarlett away to this year’s show. But as soon as the trio arrives, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nonetheless soon becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with her sister, with Legend, and 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.

Review:

I heard a lot of people raving about this book before I read it, so my expectations were high and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I think the hype, plus my own reading struggles at the moment, worked against it as I struggled to get into it and didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped.

Still, this was a magical book, reminiscent of The Night Circus, which is one of my favourite books. There’s a twisting plot which kept surprising me, a creepy game where reality and fantasy blurred, and a magical setting where anything could happen.

When we first meet Scarlett she is living with her sister, Tella,and her father, one whom she loves and protects, the other who is harsh and unforgiving towards them both. When Legend, the Master of the magical game Caraval, sends her three tickets to the next show, Scarlett knows she can’t go as it’ll risk her engagement, which she sees as her ticket off the island and her way to protect herself and her sister from their father. But Tella and her new sailor friend Julian have other plans and Scarlett soon finds herself in Caraval, with a lot at stake if she doesn’t win the game.

There’s a ticking clock on Scarlett as Caraval only lasts 5 nights and she has to win before the end, or she’ll lose something very precious to her. She teams up with Julian, and obviously there’s a romance that blossoms between them. While this was predictable, I did enjoy watching their teasing/irritation with each other turn to genuine friendship and care. I also liked that, despite this, Scarlett’s loyalties still lay with her sister: if she’d ditched Tella for some guy she barely knew I wouldn’t have been very impressed.

There’s a dark tension running through the book, and you’re never quite sure what the real danger is. Scarlett is constantly being reminded that nothing in Caraval is real, that it’s all just for the game, but she finds a lot that suggests otherwise.

The ending was just one surprise after another and I can’t say I saw many of the twists coming. It was towards the end of the book that I really got into it and just had to know how it was going to finish. While the main story line does tie up nicely, there’s an epilogue which sets up a sequel nicely and now I can’t wait to read that either.

This is a real magical read and I can see why everyone is raving about it. Sure to be one of the most anticipated books of 2017, I’d definitely recommend giving it a read.

4

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