Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2
As a self-professed lover of all books contemporary, I need to stop opening up every fantasy review I write with: “I don’t often read fantasy but when I do…” However, it works here so…I don’t often read fantasy, but when I do, the books I pick usually blow me away with dazzling world-building, high stakes, swoony romance and nail-bitingly juicy adventures. I got all of these things from Stephanie Garber’s debut YA high fantasy Caraval, the first book in a new duology that will capture adventurous readers from the first page.
Caraval is a scintillating tale of sisterhood, devotion, determination and mind-bending games. Scarlett and Donatella are sisters in near captivity under the gaze of their abusive father. Scarlett thinks the only escape for her and her sister is an arranged marriage until they get the opportunity to travel to a magnificent performance and game called Caraval. Scarlett has been yearning to go to see the spectacle since she was a child. But when the sisters take a leap of faith to see the show, things quickly go terribly wrong, turning their story into a race against time, odds and madness. A beautifully written performance in and of itself, Caraval is a gorgeous display of verbal splendor and nail-biting narrative.
However, please note that I’m keeping this review intentionally on the vague side. I went into this book with little background and I was amazed at how good it was. I heard the hype, but didn’t know details, and I want my review to keep that experience in tact for other readers.
If you like strong, multi-faceted female protagonists, then Caraval is the book for you. I was struck by dutiful but fierce Scarlett and bubbly, mischievous Tella from the beginning. Their personalities jumped off the page and I quickly became invested in their story. Scarlett and Tella surprised me again and again and again with their strength and wit as well as their vulnerabilities. Their closeness was also endearing and the relationship between them made the book feel a little bit like Phantom of the Opera meets Frozen.
The love interest (name redacted to make this review as spoiler free as possible), whose role in the story was predictable, but enjoyable. He was actually one of my favorite characters-brooding, snarky and surprising. Fans of slow burn romance or romance that is there but doesn’t take over the entire narrative arc will want in on this book as well. I’ll leave it at that. You’ll have to read the book if you want to know more. *wink*
In terms of premise, this book rocks it. In terms of world-building, this book hits it out of the park. Think Cirque du Soleil, but better and with magic. Garber is a master at describing colors and visual detail. You will feel like you are there in the story. Every detail was nuanced and careful. This book is just damn good storytelling and description. Garber is a talent and I can’t wait to read what else she writes in the future.
I did have a few qualms about the book. The very end gets very explain-y. I read some parts three times and I’m still not sure exactly what happened and who I can and can’t trust going into the second book. My other complaint is the fact that there’s a second book. I started this book thinking it was a standalone and was a bit mad when I found out I now have to wait for a sequel. But that’s a matter of personal preference.
Overall, this book was dazzling, a rare new gem in my library. The cover is amazing, the page design is beautiful, but it’s the story contained within the pretty package that’s the best part. Enjoy! And remember, it’s only a game. Or is it?