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Caraval by Stephanie Garber

The Blurb On The Back:

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year, five-day performance where the audience participates in the show.

Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.

When the sisters’ long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.

Scarlett has been told over and over that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever …




17-year-old Scarlett lives on the isle of Trisda with her younger sister Tella (short for Donatella) and their father (Trisda’s governor) who has physically and psychologically abused them ever since their mother left him. Tella takes refuge in sexual affairs and alcohol but Scarlett places her hopes in an arranged marriage to a mysterious count, figuring that it’s the only way she and Tella can escape their situation.

Then Scarlett receives a letter from Legend, the Master of Caraval (a magical game played each year over 5 days where the winner gets a fabulous prize), inviting the sisters to the Isle de los Suenos to play for a wish. But Tella is kidnapped shortly after they arrive and Scarlett is told that the game is to find Tella or risk losing her forever. She forms an uneasy alliance with Julian (a sailor “friend” of Tella’s) to solve Legend’s clues and beat other players prepared to do anything to win.

When nothing in Caraval is real and everyone is performing, Scarlett must navigate agendas and threats both physical and emotional to find her sister, and in doing so discover she’ll discover inner resources she never thought possible …

Stephanie Garber’s debut YA fantasy novel (the first in a duology) has an interesting premise and some creative world building but is ultimately a glib affair with a disturbing message that it’s okay to lie, manipulate and emotionally abuse someone (including showing no respect of physical boundaries) provided it’s ultimately for their own good and there’s True Love at the end. While I could believe in Scarlett and Tella as being abuse victims and have that shape their characters (especially Scarlett’s desire to keep Tella safe), I never got a sense that they actually cared for each other – especially given the final reveal. Scarlett is a passive character, led around by her nose and making bad decision after bad decision. Her romance with Julian is very much an insta-love affair based on him being hot, sexually aggressive and invading her personal space when she asks him not to so the fact that he’s her reward for being put through every kind of hell left a very sour taste. The father is two-dimensional and the count similarly underdrawn. There are some neat ideas in the world-building of Caraval but the dubious sexual politics means that despite the open ending I won’t be reading on.

The Verdict:

Stephanie Garber’s debut YA fantasy novel (the first in a duology) has an interesting premise and some creative world building but is ultimately a glib affair with a disturbing message that it’s okay to lie, manipulate and emotionally abuse someone (including showing no respect of physical boundaries) provided it’s ultimately for their own good and there’s True Love at the end. While I could believe in Scarlett and Tella as being abuse victims and have that shape their characters (especially Scarlett’s desire to keep Tella safe), I never got a sense that they actually cared for each other – especially given the final reveal. Scarlett is a passive character, led around by her nose and making bad decision after bad decision. Her romance with Julian is very much an insta-love affair based on him being hot, sexually aggressive and invading her personal space when she asks him not to so the fact that he’s her reward for being put through every kind of hell left a very sour taste. The father is two-dimensional and the count similarly underdrawn. There are some neat ideas in the world-building of Caraval but the dubious sexual politics means that despite the open ending I won’t be reading on.

CARAVAL will be released in the United Kingdom on 26th January 2016. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the ARC of this book.
Tags: amazon vine programme, duology, fantasy, stephanie garber, young adult
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