Author: Stephanie Garber
Release Date: January 31, 2017
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Synopsis: Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . .
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.
Hii readers! Come one, come all! I’m here for a fabulous ARC review for Miss Stephanie Garber’s Caraval! I received Caraval from Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review. This book is loaded with magic, mystery, + suspense, and I’m so glad you could join me.
I’ve managed to read Caraval twice to prepare for this long awaiting review, I spent nearly a month writing this review, and it’s finally, finally here! This book is highly anticipated all across the bookish community and I’m so glad I received an early copy ❤
Caraval is a mystical story about the strong sisterly bond between Scarlett and Tella as Scarlett whisks away her fears on the island of dreams (no, really, that’s the island name) to rescue her sister from the dangers of a treacherous game that could carry you away to insanity if you’re not careful. . .
Sounds fascinating, right?? It’s a good thing I’m horrible at predicting books, because in the case of Caraval that wasn’t possible with the amount of twists and turns that I encountered during both of my three-hour Caraval binges y
es, it’s THAT good.
Caraval is for fans of Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock, & The Night Circus. If anything sounds appealing to you, then you might be qualified to devote your life to reading Caraval! And if you don’t like those things, you should still totally read Caraval anyway.
Okay, unfortunately that’s all I can say in terms of spoiler free review because I have tons of emotional baggage to unload upon my fellow Caraval readers! BE PREPARED.
Remember, it’s just a game.
Disclaimer: End of Spoiler Free Section
Quick Note: Scarlett’s objective for Caraval is to collect all 5 clues to reach her sister, Tella. So, to correlate with the book, I decided to arrange my review into five sections of the book, and discuss my thoughts on characters, events, + ideas during each section.
Now, onto my review.
Clue 1 — The Envelope
“Whatever you heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world” (p. 19).
For years, Scarlett and Tella admired the fantastical stories of their grandmother, who viewed Caraval as a young woman. But that’s exactly what it always was—a fantastical story. As far as she knew, her desperate letters to flee to Caraval never even reached the enigmatic Legend high in a tower someplace far away.
These fantasies saved her from the gritty reality of her cruel father abuses Tella and Scarlett. When Julian, the sailor found in a compromising position with Tella, admitted that Scarlett was the guilty one, their father punished Tella intead—because he knew there are few things that damage Scarlett more than watching Tella suffer.
But, suddenly, the impossible happens.
Once Scarlett reaches the Island of Dreams
and because no journey is ever simple, was p reviously knocked out, hostaged on a small rowboat, forced to swim to shore, and face the sight in public of wearing just undergarments, of course Scarlett was finally encountering the fantasy that was Caraval.
In terms of world building, Caraval was fantastic. While the history of the Elantine empire is primarily vague within the walls of the novel
hopefully we can discover more with the upcoming sequel in 2018. . .oh god, that’s so far away. . . but otherwise I was utterly drawn into the Night Circusesque atmosphere of the novel right away.
I didn’t even realize how much Caraval resembled Alice in Wonderland until I read Caraval for the second time. From the spontaneous scenarios constantly thrown Scarlett’s way, to signs saying Come Back Yesterday, I discovered just how precisely the puzzle pieces fit together two strangely similar worlds such as AiW + Caraval.
“We will try to convince you it’s [Caraval] real, but all of it is a performance. A world built of make-believe. So while we want you to get swept away, be careful of being swept too far away. Dreams that come true can be beautiful, but they can also turn into nightmares when people won’t wake up” (p. 77).
When given the opportunity to either observe or participate, Julian—the “sailor” that smuggled Tella and Scarlett off their home island of Trisda—is appalled at the idea that Scarlett could simply just observe. So she’s reluctantly pulled into participating—after all, how will she find Tella if she only watches the game?
While I am 100% fine with the chemistry between Julian and Scarlett, and I often melted at even the slightest sign of Julian placing his hand in the small of her back, their romance often fell short as insta-love
I mean, the book is over the course of a week OF COURSE IT’S INSTALOVE, JILL!! which I wasn’t craaaazy about. However, their journey together did contribute to a genuine connection between them that I fell in love with as the awkward third wheel of their relationship.
On the topic of Julian + Scarlett, their image at Caraval is conceived as engaged by the letter once addressed to Legend long ago. Despite the fact she needs to uphold this reputation, Scarlett refuses to share a room with Julian for she’s truly engaged to a count she’s never met. Inside their room, though, Julian discovers an envelope that indicates the first clue to Caraval: the number of Tella’s room inside The Glass Serpent inn.
And that, my friends, leads Scarlett to the second clue.
Clue 2 — Picture Card of Castillo Maldito
In the room of Tella, Scarlett’s heart drops at the sound of Tella’s wailing and demanding Scarlett to stay out. With the shuffling and crashing of objects behind the door, you can probably imagine Scarlett took this well.
The next day, Scarlett discovers Tella’s room is ripped apart—objects scattered and pilfered by various Caraval members: including a silver haired woman and a pregnant lady who later Scarlett realized only pretended to be so she could steal Tella’s things from Scarlett.
Hm, tough crowd.
Scarlett is devastated when the room is devoid of anything left to get her closer to Tella, except for a picture card of a castle: Castillo Maldito. Scarlett recalls Tella’s fascination with castles and adventures, and is certain this is the second clue.
Oh, but it doesn’t end there. Julian + Scarlett head into town to find Castillo Maldito and see where to find their next clue. Scarlett decides to branch off from Julian and visit a psychic.
I found this part really interesting—the scene between Scarlett and the psychic, Nigel. At first Scarlett doesn’t believe he’s a real psychic without a crystal ball or tarot cards, but he declares her hesitation is masking her fear of what he’ll tell her.
Nigel explains some deep stuff to Scarlett, too, like, “It is not fate, it is simply the future observing that which we crave the most. Every person has the power to change their fate if they are brave enough to fight for what they desire more than anything” (p. 149).
One element of Caraval I find utterly fascinating is the fact that currency is not coins, or credit, or cash—but secrets, facts, and other forms of information. In exchange for a peek into her future, Nigel asks Scarlett two questions. To which Scarlett responds, “Only two?” and Nigel says, “Do wish that to be one of your questions?” SHE FELL INTO THE QUESTION TRAP. GIRL YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER!! But this particular scene gave me a quick laugh at Scarlett’s blatant naivety.
At the end of her visit with Nigel, Scarlett asks where she can find her sister. While Nigel refuses to give her a direct response
as if he knew himself he instead suggests she follow the boy with the black heart.
Clue 3 — The Boy with the Black Heart
Scarlett is quick to jump at her trust issues and assume Julian is the boy with the black heart. After all, she told Nigel he was selfish and deceitful.
Despite her obvious growing feelings for Julian.
Even though when Scarlett returns to the inn, she discovers Julian with a bleeding head wound. As she begins to panic, Julian assures her Caraval is just a game.
This scene is followed by even more JulianxScarlett romantic tension that had me aching for more, my god.
Amid the search for the boy with the black heart, Scarlett is at the Glass Serpent tavern, sitting alone in a tattered black dress and a veil over her eyes, mourning the fact she couldn’t get an advantage on Tella. Scarlett is bombarded by other contestents who pelt her with questions about her sister’s whereabouts. Scarlett, the solemn buzzkill she is, reminds to each and every one that she has no idea. This display exhausts Scarlett beyond recognition.
A barmaiden, Aiko, appears to remind Scarlett to pick herself up and have a little amusement with these competitors. Simply because, “‘Your sister, I know,’ said Aiko. ‘I also know you’ll find her at the end once this is all over and you’ll wish you’d not spent your days sitting in this stinking tavern feeling sorry for yourself'” (184).
Taking her guidance, Scarlett tells the next couple competitors that Tella was going to meet Scarlett by the fountain with the mermaid. The couple beams with joy, but Scarlett is disappointed with herself that she’d just lied to them.
As little as this scene is in the grand scheme of things, it introduces us to the fascinating player that is Aiko—who I just so happened to really like, despite her future actions—and above all, leads to possible character development for Scarlett letting loose and finding amusement in her game of Caraval.
However, fate has other things in store for her and Scarlett discovers the dangerous Dante from The Glass Serpent with a tattoo of a black heart on his forearm—but Julian warned her that if his moral compass was damaged, Dante didn’t have one.
Scarlett, shaken by her discovery, attempts to chase Dante out the tavern + down the bridge, but unfortunately disappears. On the bridge, however, leads her to another fascinating discovery that alludes to the fourth clue of Caraval.
Clue 4 — Cost You Something Valuable
In the chase for the boy with the black heart, Scarlett discovers a vendor who offers her juicy cider in exchange for the last lie she told. It was the mermaid fountain lie to the couple, and soon Scarlett downed the cider. It only took seconds for her to realize it was no ordinary cider. . .
Soon, Scarlett was unable to decipher the colors around her. Unfortunately, the vendor boy vanished before Scarlett could ask for a possible refund.
And to think it wouldn’t get worse, Aiko appeared from thin air to ask Scarlett if she didn’t catch the boy she’d been looking for. Clearly Scarlett was in no mood to deal with the likes of Aiko when Caraval was just a blur of black & white in her eyes.
When considering her current situation, Scarlett said, “‘I think I’ve made a mistake.’ To which Aiko responds, “‘Then make it into something better'” (190). This really struck me to just encompass Caraval as a whole.
Strolling down the street with Aiko, Scarlett is given a fascinating piece of info: no 5 clues make up the end result of Caraval, and to Scarlett’s dismay, it is up to the player to interpret the thousands of clues given to reach the end. ISN’T THAT EPIC? Well, I thought it was, gosh.
Then Aiko reveals herself as Caraval’s historiographer—everything from the show’s beginning is in her notebook. Queens, kings, pirates, thieves, it’s all there—even Scarlett. Another hint to the fact that this year’s show has its spotlight on Tella and her.
They reach a dress shop, and a stanza is scribed on the glass: “the thing you regret the most, / your worst fear, / a secret you’ve never told a soul.” These are the possible payments for 3 dresses from the shop. Wicked, right?
While Aiko tries to persuade Scarlett to purchase three dresses, they meet the compromise of just two. Inside the shop, Scarlett meets the same girl who pretended to be pregnant so she could snag the Tella clues from Scarlett in Tella’s hotel room. (Awkward.) Moving on, Scarlett answers the first question with ease: her greatest fear is something will happen to Tella. Next, she responds that her greatest desire is to see her sister again. However, the scale doesn’t register this answer. Scarlett is shaken, it has to be right.
I exchange for lying, Scarlett is deducted two days from Caraval. She is to fall asleep that night and not wake up until the following day.
About to faint, Aiko rushes Scarlett back to the Glass Serpent hotel fortunately close by. Scarlett may go into a hypothetical coma for two days but at least the girl got herself some decent dresses.
Fair trade, fair trade, dare I say.
In their room, Julian discovers Scarlett’s. . .predicament. Yeah. Okay, now things got real good in this part when Julian swapped his blood with hers, and in exchange Scarlett would only “die” for a day, and Julian lose a day himself.
The science behind this is shaky as hell, but it got me some steamy moments like “When his soft lips touched her skin the entire world shattered into a million shards of colored glass” (211) that had me like AHHHH.
As she’s unofficially dead, Scarlett receives several valuable pieces of intel during her sleep. At first it’s the truth that Legend was romantically involved in her grandmother Annalise who always tantalized Tella and Scarlett of the magic of Caraval. Everything is started to piece together now—at least in her mind.
In addition, Scarlett has a dream that unveils the truth that Julian is Legend. With this sudden super incredibly true realization backed by no evidence whatsoever beside a biased dream, Scarlett is appalled at how close she allowed herself to grow so close to Julian.
OH, BUT IT GETS EVEN BETTER.
As Scarlett steps into the lobby (she’s “alive” now) she spots her father. Yes, the cruel, abusive, sociopath father who she and Tella fled to Caraval to escape. AND THAT MEANS SHE CAN PANIC NOW.
In order to escape her father for the second time, Scarlett flees into these tunnels. Down there, she discovers an unsightly sight: Julian, and a dead Dante.
Scarlett, like any sensible person, is mortified. It only amplifies her belief that Julian is the cruel Legend ringmaster. However, the tunnels supposedly make a person mad, so there’s that too. Yeah, damn those illusions always ruining everything.
When Scarlett reveals she knows Julian is Legend, he denies her immediately. (Of course.) And Julian pulls the guilt card, saying Legend killed his sister. We can assume he is not only aiding Scarlett in her adventure, but plans to avenge his sister, Rosa’s death.
Who was coincidentally the fiancee to Dante. Doesn’t mean the guy had to die, though.
“I saw pictures,” Scarlett said. “If she was your sister, why were you just standing there? I saw you wearing a top hat.”
“You think I’m Legend because you saw me wearing a top hat?” Julian sounded as if he wanted to laugh.
Julian gives Scarlett a brief history of Legend, how his heart was broken and forced himself to tear apart any relationships if he can help it. Sounds cliche, in my opinion, but I’m not a villain, so who am I to judge?
Still in tunnels, Scarlett is tempted to run toward the sound of Tella shrieking in the distance. Julian tries to sustain her, but she is frantically certain that her sister is in grave danger. I found this scene worth mentioning since I scribbled down in my notes “like Katniss and Prim in Catching Fire” and found the similarities rather uncanny. Scarlett is able to contain herself, convinced its an illusion of the tunnels
“Tella loved danger the same way candlesticks loved to burn. It never seemed to scare her that some of the things she lusted for might consume her like a flame” (p. 247).
(P.S. I added this quote because I love the constant contrast between Scarlett and Tella’s mindsets and courage, even though the lines between them will blur eventually.)
Scarlett receives an interesting gift at her hotel room—a wedding gown. Scarlett is convinced the wedding dress is a clue from Legend. But not just any clue—but the infamous 5th clue.
Trust me, it gets even more interesting from here.
Clue 5 — A Leap of Faith
Scarlett has no choice but to assume the wedding dress is her 5th and final clue. Julian isn’t quite so sure himself, but decides to go along with it.
Julian, Scarlett, and Aiko find themselves at the hatter shop. Mind you, I didn’t really catch how Caraval (the book, not the game) was appealed to fans of Alice in Wonderland, but this part completely tipped me off with the idea. The obscure magic, the hatter shop, and the reminder of Heartless by Marissa Meyer had me wishing for an ounce of wonderland in this scene. And I suppose in some way, Scarlett is just like Alice.
A man in a top hat (the hatter, to presume) is fascinated as Julian tells him not to look at Scarlett as he does, and soon the “hatter” reveals himself as Scarlett’s fiance from back home.
All I recall from reading this scene was my mouth in the shape of an O.
Scarlett realizes her wedding dress was actually sent to her from her fiance, Count Nicolas d’Arcy, which instantly ruins the beauty of the gown. In the beginning, Scarlett could not wait to escape her island with Tella and be whisked away to paradise with her fiance. But now, encountering him, Scarlett couldn’t wait to get away from him. Especially learning that the Count was in league with her father in taking her away from Caraval. I love this change when Scarlett admits, “Finally she understood what Tella meant when she said there was more to life than being safe” (p. 272). YES, I LOVE ME SOME CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT!
Oh. . .You’re still here? I was just reading the first kiss scene between Julian and Scarlett and I suppose I got distracted.
I tend to get distracted as I flip the pages for more things to write in my review, pardon me. Trust me, it’s an amazing scene, but it’s worth reading for yourself.
BUT APPARENTLY I CAN’T HAVE ANYTHING HAPPY, STEPHANIE GARBER. Because Scarlett and Julian (shortly after they kiss) encounter her father once again, and in a brawl, slashed Julian’s face with a dagger. He didn’t die, but it was definitely an image that made me draw a sharp breath
would ya look at me using fancy author phrases.
Okay, things got a little tense from here.
As if they weren’t already!! Scarlett’s father takes Julian into his room for safekeeping and stores Scarlett in her fiance’s suite. Her father reminds the Count to “enjoy what he’s bought” and I was like, OH NO, HONEY.
As Scarlett attempts to reason with the Count, he begins shedding his clothes. *gulp* But it was a personal victory when Scarlett says, “Do you really want a bride who will only sleep with you because another man will be tortured if she doesn’t” (p. 287)? And the Count winces. Yes, winces! My girl is really coming through with standing up and becoming a real badass.
Before, Scarlett had always felt as if she didn’t have choices, but now she was starting to realize that she did. She just needed to be bold enough to make the difficult ones. (p. 291)
But alas, it’s no use. The Count is humiliated, and still wants to use Scarlett. She remembers the elixir of protection from a couple days ago and dumps it onto the bed. It renders him disoriented and so she and Julian escape relatively unscathed.
I mean, Julian struggles to walk but her father didn’t harm him too badly.
On their escape, Scarlett asks Julian about his sister, Rosa, the one who died for Legend. She leaped off his balcony, all because he rejected her. Now, Scarlett is paranoid that Tella will do the same. Or worse, she’ll have to jump for Tella. A leap of faith, indeed. This, my friends, is called foreshadowing. I’d make a note and save it for later.
Scarlett and Julian try to escape through the tunnels, but end up in the hands of Legend instead, who appears very eager to meet Scarlett once and for all. Scarlett can barely believe her eyes.
Legend admits that Julian has been working for him this entire time, and has never once cared for Scarlett. She is appalled, but knew Julian was a conniving rat and liar and all. Legend took her home, broke her engagement, stole her sister, and told her that Julian is only his tool. Things can’t get much worse for Scarlett.
But it does.
Legend stabs Julian.
He dies in Scarlett’s arms and I was about to shut this book and curl into a ball and DIE MYSELF.
Now, Scarlett composes herself and finds a new objective: find her sister, collect her wish from Legend, and bring Julian back to life. (And this will go swimmingly.) Alas, she discovers a note inviting her to Donatella Dragna’s funeral tomorrow night and this motivates Scarlett more than ever to defeat Legend.
Scarlett discovers a trap door and encounters Tella, locked up inside a suite. Scarlett is glad she’s okay, but demands they leave now, for they’re both in danger. Tella, isn’t so amused. She assures Scarlett it’s a game and Scarlett can relax. But, paranoid, Scarlett is certain Legend is going to kill both of them. When she gives Tella the note, it no longer says the funeral of Donatella but a party commemorating the end of Caraval instead.
Then Tella reveals she’s in love. And intends to marry him. And Scarlett, a lovely character but a glorious hypocrite, demands Tella she can’t marry a man she just met.
What is this, Frozen?? Scarlett plants the idea that this Daniel Tella loves is just a figment of Legend.
And she’s right. Legend, still under the guise of Daniel, appears. He convinces Tella that Scarlett is endangering herself and should be tied up. Scarlett says she would do anything for Tella, and to which he responds, “You would jump for her, to your death?” DUH, DUH, DUHHH.
Scarlett, after attempting to reason with Legend, approaches the edge of the balcony, the wind rustling her hair and skin and all that descriptive stuff. Legend says to Tella that her sister is a danger to herself yet again, and Tella hands “Daniel” a rope to tie Scarlett up again.
Things get real random here when their father and the Count appear, stumbling inside Tella’s hostage suite. Here is when Legend strips the guise of being Daniel, and Tella is so heartbroken that she decides to jump off the balcony. Her father even demands she step down, but Tella yells, “If either of you take another step toward my sister. I swear I’ll jump. And, Father, you know if you don’t have me, you’ll never be able to control Scarlett. Even if you have her, you won’t make this marriage happen” (p. 346). To which I was like, DAMN TELLA.
Well she jumps.
And Scarlett is in shambles as she watches her sister tumble to death.
After watching her sister die, it is revealed that her father murdered Dante and slapped a Caraval player, so Scarlett demands he never speak to her again. For once, Legend agrees with Scarlett and tells the Governor to never show his face here again.
Scarlett is more bold than ever, and says her father is a murderer, and he can no longer can control her, especially since Tella is gone. Governor Dragna has managed to drive both of his daughters away.
He leaves with the Count, frightened of his own daughter. I call this a victory, now that she’s free of his oppression.
Turning to Legend, she demands her compensation for winning. Legend’s next statement translates to “dafuq” and refuses to grant her a wish. Scarlett, you can guess, took this very well.
For years Scarlett had believed no one could be worse than her father, and no one could be more magical than Legend, but despite his tricks with the fire, the master of Caraval didn’t look so magical now. Maybe he said he wouldn’t grant her wish because he couldn’t grant her wish. (p. 355)
Scarlett races down to Tella, and hugs her as she cries. But when she’s offered Tella’s things, she hesitates at first before a Caraval player says she definitely wants to see what there’s to take.
Inside her vanity is letters. All addressed to Legend from Tella. Basically, Tella arranged this entire Caraval, for Scarlett to learn her bravery, for them both to escape their father, and above all, find a new adventure.
Confronting Legend about the letters, it is discovered that this isn’t the real Legend but a man named Caspar. The letters are between Tella and the real Legend, claiming if he could help her and Scarlett escape their dreadful life, he could redeem himself as a hero beside a villain. And, clearly, he agreed.
Tella appears, completely unscathed. If I were Scarlett, I probably would have slapped her, then hugged her. Or both at once.
At the post-Caraval ball, Scarlett encounters Tella and Aiko, who persuade her to go and talk to Julian, who is very not dead. Shaken, Scarlett goes over there anyway. At first she is unconvinced to trust him, since he was just a player of Caraval, and not to mention, his brother is the real Legend. However, he pleads for a second chance, it’s pretty adorable, and Scarlett agrees, pulling in for a kiss.
TA DA. That’s the end.
Or is it??
The epilogue opens with Tella, admiring Julian and Scarlett, wishing for a romance of her own. Furthering herself from the crowd, Tella discovers a note addressed to her: this person is glad their plan worked, she and Scarlett are free of their father, and their mother is waiting to see them.
The disappearance of Scarlett and Tella’s mother was initially left open to the reader, since she had just vanished from their lives. . .But this, thiiiiiis I didn’t expect. If you thought this was the end, it was probably just the beginning.
THAT LINE IS SO CHEESY. But I used it, so what?
So this review is a mess, but I really wanted to captivate the magic of Caraval in the best way possible: in 5000 words. This was the only way.
OKAY, so on the topic of the ending. . .I assumed Caraval would be a standalone, but the letter promising a visit from their mother leaves the possibility open for a potential sequel. UPDATE: I checked Goodreads, and Caraval is confirmed to be a duology. WOOHOO! I love the rise in duologies recently, trilogies are so out these days.
Overall I’d like to say that Caraval was definitely worth the read. When I heard back in August that I needed to request Caraval, I certainly hadn’t expected it to be this incredible. Magical. Whimsical. That being said, when Caraval is released on January 31, I really really recommend you hike out through the snow
maybe that’s just an Ohioan thing, where the sky is always gray and pick up a copy of Caraval from your local bookstore. And make sure to set aside a couple hours, because it is impossible to savor this book before ripping through its pages to the end. MY GOD.
So yeah, this review is probably the most I’ve written on a blog post, ever. And I’m super proud. Stephanie Garber, this is for you. Thank you for this amazing, amazing whirlwind of adventure and suspense and tears and magic and joy. The worst thing about receiving this ARC is that now I have to wait much longer for the sequel, which I have no doubt will be 100000x times more spectacular.
Wow, you made it down here? I APPLAUD YOU, SON. What were your thoughts on Caraval? Tell me below!!