Author: Stephanie Garber
Date of Publication: 26th January 2017
Synopsis: Sisters escape their abusive and tyrannial Father and fall into the renowned performance that is Caraval. A race against other competitors ensues; with heavy doses of love, magic and intrigue.
This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review. My thanks go to Stephanie Garber, Hodder and Stoughton and Netgalley for the opportunity.
…”real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever . . .”
There you have it; real or not. This is for me the central theme of Caraval. Whilst this book is many other things; a tale of the bond between sisters, an account of familial abuse, a love story….despite everything else, the author is always circling around this difficult to answer question. It is what makes this so captivating to me as a reader and it is what pulled me by the hand right up until the final pages. I was, from the very first, completely willing to take part in the performance laid before me.
I have read books before where plot twists spiral around one another, linked so densely and so tightly sequenced as to confuse and frustrate. However here Stephanie Garber weaves with a deftness which leaves no doubt as to her skill as a writer. Even as shock after horror after revelation shower down upon the characters, I was never overwhelmed because it is all part of the game – and that is where Garber has struck gold. She has created a plot within which every whim and desire can be done and undone. Nothing, once decided on, is set in stone. By doing this there is no expected – leaving me as invested in the outcome as Scarlett herself – and as unsure as to where we’re headed next.
Garber has also created some wonderful characters; both Scarlett and Donatella appealed to me from the start. Scarlett is self-sacrificing, sensible and almost completely, miserably accepting of her lot in life. Donatella however, just as self-sacrificing in a less obvious way, is still full of fight and fury against their situation. The contrast really heightens Scarlett’s journey throughout the performance (note performance, rather than competition, is how I view the central conceit)- and Garber gives her the perfect partner to play against in Julian.
I feel that romance is difficult in YA Fantasy – everything has been done before. Garber earns my unending thanks for not including a love triangle here (my bane) and instead uses the time to build something between Julian and Scarlet which is bathed in all the secrecy and costume of Caraval, yet at the same time has some truly shining moments of honesty (or are they?!). There are layers upon layers to Julian’s character and he is fascinating to read – especially in conjunction with the endless veneers of plot constantly concealing his true intentions and feelings.
My only slight criticism would be that I felt there could easily have been another fifty pages added. The fast pacing occasionally stumbled in its haste, meaning important scenes felt slightly rushed in the need to not linger too long and instead move straight to the next. Sometimes a little lingering gives not only the reader time to breathe but also the characters themselves.
Why should you pick up Caraval? If you’re not interested in rich description, full and compelling characters, a beautiful world, a dark and complex plot and both romantic love and sisterly adoration then you probably shouldn’t. However you would be missing out. This is a fantastical and wholly vibrant debut which kept me guessing until the very end and made me itch to re-enter the Caraval and relive the race for the winner’s wish.