Stephanie Garber: Caraval


I received a free physical copy of this book, unsolicited, from the publishers.

 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 their 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 . . .

Caraval is Stephanie Garber’s debut novel, a highly-anticipated young adult, fantasy that sees magic come alive through performance. The magic in Caraval comes in various forms and can affect the audience in a variety of ways. Upon arriving at Caraval, you are told twice that not everything is as it seems, that you shouldn’t believe everything everyone says or believe everything that you see. But for the unlucky few, you can’t help but be dragged into the all too real world that is Caraval as it feeds off of your emotions to submerge you deeper and deeper into the fantastical.

I didn’t know a lot about this novel going into it. I hadn’t even heard of the book until it was sent to me but, from the months since then I have gathered information from social media that tells me that Caraval is a novel not to be missed, a novel that is being highly praised. I’ve begun to realise in the past year that young adult, fantasy is my jam. I may be a 22-year-old and should really be reading more adult fiction, but I can’t help but be dragged into these worlds that provide the perfect form of escapism.

Caraval follows our main character Scarlett Dragna as she attempts to find her sister Donatella (Tella) within the world of Caraval. Tella has been taken as part of the adventure of Caraval and Scarlett must follow a series of clues and source her out within the five nights of the performance. On this journey, Scarlett comes into contact with a variety of characters with varying motives and personalities. She does not know who she should trust, not even her own decisions as the magic of Caraval sucks her in and twists the truth.

Scarlett, as a character, starts off as someone quite unsure of herself. All she has known is that she must protect her sister from their abusive father, that she must be the mother-figure after their own mother, Paloma, left without a trace. What drives her forward throughout the novel is the thought that she might never see her sister again and that Legend, the master of Caraval, will be able to grant her one wish – a wish she hopes will give her and Tella the freedom they need to get away from their father. As the adventure progresses and she gets closer to the truth of Caraval and finding her sister, Scarlett is influenced by the people around her and the opportunities they can provide. Scarlett becomes more knowledgeable about what is happening around her, and she becomes more daring and reckless with her choices as she realises that she must let loose and take chances if she is to progress further. As a character, Scarlett develops a lot throughout the narrative and is an almost entirely different person by the end. Yes, she still holds the same hopes and dreams, and her feelings towards her family are still the same; but she begins to uncover the truth of the fantasies she has believed since she was a child. The challenges that are put before her make her a stronger character and you can see that in her actions and her mannerisms towards the other characters.

One element I really enjoyed about Garber’s narrative is her use of colour. Scarlett is able to understand her feelings and emotions through colour which adds a clarity to this novel that helps provide subtle hints about the character’s she interacts with. But, not only is the use of colour used to help Scarlett, and the reader, understand how she is feeling, but Garber uses these colours alongside the magic of Caraval to help Scarlett progress through the adventure. These colours help Scarlett make her decisions and allows her to understand what risks she needs to be taking and who can help her on her journey. There are obvious colours like black for those who are dangerous and who might want to stay away from, but then other colours can be a bit harder for her to discern their meaning.

The magic used within Caraval has an almost whimsical feel and gave me a nostalgic feeling of being a child again. I enjoyed the way in which the magic was implemented and how it effected the world of Caraval in different ways based on the place, time of day, and who interacted with it. The magic of Caraval also gave an air of mystery surrounding the setting and the narrative of the novel, making it harder to understand who to trust due to the ways in which people become affected by the magic – some people going mad, becoming untrustworthy etc.

Caraval was definitely the most magical book I have read in the whole of 2016, and for quite a long time. It’s the perfect book for escapism as it is so whimsical and the characters are influenced in so many ways that it is hard to trust anyone creating various twists and turns throughout the narrative. Even when everything was explained I was waiting for some veil to be torn down to reveal that everything still was a mystery.


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