Caraval by Stephanie Garber | A Whirlwind That Leaves You Lost Between Reality & Illusion

Let’s be real, there are some VERY mixed reviews about this book out there, but the overall response always seemed to be quite positive. I’ve been meaning to buy this book since it was released, but things like that rarely ever go to plan 😂 However, I finally got myself a copy and decided to give it a shot.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber
(Caraval #1)
Hardcover | 408 pages | Purchased

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her 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 faraway, 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. Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic.

Despite the hype surrounding this series, I really didn’t know much about this book before diving in. For some reason, I’d gotten it into my head that it was going to be a YA version of The Night Circus, but I was off base with that one. Caraval is its own story entirely, and while I had a couple of issues with the characters, I loved the whole idea.

Scarlett is warned multiple times not to believe everything she sees throughout her time at Caraval. She’s told it’s all just a game and that she shouldn’t let herself get swept too far away. But despite those warnings, it’s difficult to discern reality from illusion. Did that character really do that? Was that person really there? Betrayal, lies, failure, love, success… what is real and what isn’t? It was fascinating and captivating and I genuinely had no idea where the story was headed.

Within the first 50 pages of this book, we learn that Scarlett and Tella have spent their lives abused and terrified. They’ve always wanted to experience Caraval for themselves, but their cruel father would never allow them to leave their tiny island. But now the chance to see Caraval has become a reality and Scarlett is worried about risking everything. Her sister, however, has no such misgivings, and ends up dragging Scarlett all the way to the Isla de los Sueños – Caraval Master Legend’s private island.

I won’t lie, it took me a long time to really connect with Scarlett. She’s spent so long being abused by her father that she’s terrified of everything. This fear stops her from letting herself get swept into the magic of Caraval, and that kind of annoyed me. I was expecting a book full of whimsy and wonder, but instead I got a girl too afraid to play the game. It took Scarlett so long to swallow her fears and finally take Caraval seriously. I can’t say too much about her role within the game because spoilers, but what I will say is that the whole thing made me super curious about Legend 🧐

And then there’s Julian, who is such an interesting character. First impressions: tall, handsome, and dangerous, “like poison dressed up in an attractive bottle”. Honestly, I was hooked. But that’s all I’m going to say on the matter. Julian is just one of those characters you have to experience for yourself 🤭

There is just so much about this book that I loved, especially the way bargains are struck and transactions are made. Forget coins, payment comes in the form of the last lie you told, or the thing you regret most, or your worst fear, etc. While the pacing did feel slightly off in a few places, the writing is beautiful and since this is a debut, I imagine Stephanie Garber’s writing will just get better as the series progresses.

The last hundred pages or so of this book are absolutely brilliant. A whirlwind of emotion that leaves you lost between reality and illusion. This book did not end the way I expected, and you can bet your ass I’m going to be continuing this series at some point!

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