review: caraval by stephanie garber

“Every person has the power to change their fate if they are brave enough to fight for what they desire more than anything.”

This is a spoiler-free review which can also be viewed HERE.

My dear gentlemen and fair ladies, welcome, welcome to Caraval – a fantastical and wondrous story about love and betrayal. This is the debut of author Stephanie Garber and it promises so much with its circus-like atmosphere. But for me it’s not easy to begin with this one. Waiting for this book felt like a torture since I heard so many great things from the people who had an ARC and I felt like doing a backflip or something artistic when I finally got my hands on the book. Let me say, both the US and the UK editions are mesmerizing. I do own both copies and they are perfect in their design. They do give me a feeling of magic and wishes and wonders. Attributes connected to Caraval.

The story is about the probably strongest form of love you can find – the one between siblings, in this case sisters. It evolves all around Scarlett and Donatella – often referred to as Tella – Dragna who are living with their ruthless and abusive father on an island that seemingly seems to cut them off from the rest of this 19th something century world. All they wish for is to leave their home – Tella to see the world and Scarlett to marry her mysterious fiancé only named the Count. But what they both share is the dream of visiting Caraval – a troupe of folk lead by their master Legend with their said to be magical circus. “Remember it’s only a game …” The visitors of Caraval are expected to participate in this elaborate spectacle but constantly remembered, that it is only a game.

When the sisters finally get a chance to visit Caraval and leave their lives behind if only for some precious days, the first signs of sisterly love are shown. While Tella wants to leave as soon as possible, Scarlett is afraid what could happen to her sister. But as the main protagonist and kind-of-heroine of the book, Scarlett disappointed me in many ways. I love a strong female lead – and while she doesn’t need to handle a weapon or fight with magic or make all the boys fall for her I want to see a woman with a sharp mind and some kind of confidence. Sadly Scarlett is afraid of many things – but most of all, it seems, to let go of the things she know and follow unknown paths. At the beginning of Caraval she meets the male lead character – Julian, a handsome a witty young man (exactly the sort of character I fall easily for), is another player in the game. He has some old secrets and bonds connected to Caraval, it’s master and other players but I won’t reveal those since they’re only revealed at the end of the book.

Throughout the story the two of them develop some kind of romance, which was too fast for my liking. That might because of the fact that Scarlett hated Julian at the beginning mainly because he made out with her sister and because she doesn’t seem to get along with his characteristics very well. All in all she had been suspicious when it cam to him. The love came all of a sudden while there were other and more important things to worry about – which I also won’t talk about now. They both developed over the story – Scarlett grows more confident while Julian is able to show his kinder and softer side a bit more – but still I felt that there could be more. Like their development was suppressed and not allowed to fully grow.

The world of Caraval is often described as vivid, magical and unbelievable. It was, in fact, a wonderful places to escape to while reading. Still I thought there could be a little bit more. The places Garber describes are fantastical and reveal the mystery of Caraval bit by bit which hooked me and made me want to see more without forcing something new into it. So the world and character development are almost the same to me – nice and beautiful, but there is something missing. There could be just a little bit more to it without getting the feeling that it might be too much. Nevertheless I enjoyed the plotting of this story and the secrets that have been revealed at the end of the book – some of them I already guessed by that point but still there were some I weren’t able to grasp before.

As an older and very protective sister myself – with a younger one who clearly knows no boundaries – I loved to read about the bond between Scarlett and Tella. I can never get enough of this pure kind of love and if it had been for me, there would have been more of this devotion. Overall it was a wonderful book that reminded me of The Night Circus in some ways but developed it’s own story. Still I couldn’t quite connect to the world in a manner I wished for. I felt more like an observer than a player in the game of Caraval. And – if it where me who would get the chance to participate – I would always choose to play instead of watching.

The rating:

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