Book: Caraval

Author: Stephanie Garber

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 416

Format Read: Kindle

All Scarlett of the Conquered Isle of Trisda ever wanted was an invitation to the magical circus-carnival called Caraval. For her sister, for course. For years, she wrote to the Master of Caraval, Legend, and he never wrote back. Until that final letter – she was getting married, and she asked him not to invite her.

So he did.

“Caraval” opens with Scarlett’s series of letters, beginning with her hopeful childlike note, and the first chapter ends with her reserved, after engagement notice, to the Caraval Master. That was intriguing in itself, because those letters reveal that Caraval is hard to attend, but it is magical enough to make a child, then teenager, then young woman, continue trying to get an invitation.

But when she does get the invitation, Scarlett has other problems. Her father is abusive and thinks nothing of whipping his daughters. Her younger sister Donatella has grown breathlessly daring, and has found a strange sailor called Julian for her current dalliance. Scarlett herself is engaged to a man she has never met, but he has sent letters to her that sound sweet and romantic. Of course, all she wants is to get out of her father’s household, and take Donatella with her.

And then Donatella disappears, apparently gone to Caraval on her own, and Scarlett, panicked, must find her before their father does. The only company she has is the infuriating and irrepressible Julian.

I found “Caraval” suspenseful and original, and very magical. Caraval, where Scarlett eventually finds herself, is part carnival, part circus, all of it dreamworld, with altered timescales and mysterious actors all playing a part, and players – like her – caught in the web of the Caraval Master’s games. Scarlett, after a point, has no idea who’s real and who’s not, and no idea who to trust. All that keeps her going is her desire to see her sister again and keep her safe.

This book does keep you guessing until a surprising conclusion (not exactly subtle, that ending, and a little farfetched, but that is a minor quibble). The writing style is lyrical, and suited to the theme and setting of the book, a little strong on metaphor. The characters are well drawn out and quite memorable actually, especially Scarlett and Julian.

“Caraval” is mysterious and strange, and a book I really liked.


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