• Sarah Leonard

"Caraval" by Stephanie Garber Book Review

Updated: Jun 25, 2019



Author: Stephanie Garber Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 3.8/5 (maybe round up to 4)

Caraval: the game where you play to win in a world of fantasy and tricks, and this year, the winner gets a wish from the gamemaster himself, Legend. Tella, desperate for freedom from her abusive father, drags her sister, Scarlett, and guide/lover, Julian, to the games. But then Tella is taken by Legend himself. Caught in the world of Caraval, Scarlett and Julian have to look past the deceptive curtain to know what is real and what’s not so that they can find Tella before it’s too late.


As you can see, this plot is absolutely addictive. The whole book is this magical, mysterious playground that we get to experience with the characters. Every time they confront a new puzzle, the book gives the perfect amount for us readers to be able to join the characters in trying to figure out the clues.


And, honestly, the atmosphere alone was enough to keep me turning pages. Visuals are incredible as well as the magical elements of the experiences, the clothing, the places, the things (*insert clapping emoji here*). I’d absolutely love to play this game, if it wasn’t as trying as Scarlett’s experience, that is.


From her POV, it’s kind of scary to see what the game does to people. It drives them crazy, turns them into ravenous animals trying to find these clues and losing themselves in the magic of everything. I like that. I like that Garber adds this element of the game’s impact. What I don’t like is following a lead character who lacks agency. There are so many times Scarlett wastes time worrying about wasting time, and I just sat there anxiously screaming (literally screaming a few times), “Go! Go! For the love of cheese, PLEASE go!” There are times Julian literally has to pull her forward.


For example, at the start of their journey in this world of Caraval, Scarlett won’t get into the boat they need to get into because she’s worried about finding Tella. But how is standing there WORRYING going to help her, especially when they need to get to the hotel before sunset?


I get that this is probably a character trait Garber intended to apply, but it got really annoying. What didn’t seem intentional was disliking Tella. I feel like Garber wanted us to like her, but I’ll be honest, I really hated her. Mostly because of the ending, which I won’t spoil…Okay, never mind, pay mind to the spoiler section below. Everything inside of the asterisks is a spoiler. I just got to rant about this…

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At the end of the book, it’s discovered that Tella set this whole thing up and designed the games so that the ending would get Tella and Scarlett’s abusive father to leave them alone. But Tella does this by allowing Scarlett to go through almost being raped, losing a day of her life, seeing Julian “killed”, being told by Tella that her experiences never happened, then seeing that very sister killed just for her to waltz up once the game was over and say it was all a way to get rid of their father.


She didn’t even apologize or truly acknowledge what she did was wrong. As someone who’s biggest fear is losing the people I love, this is pretty unforgivable for me. And Scarlett just shrugs it off and moves on. There’s no anger, and it infuriates me that Tella gets off so easy. I can’t imagine seeing the people I loved killed in front of my eyes. It’s my greatest nightmare, and Tella feels barely any sympathy for Scarlett in that situation.


Also, I feel like there must have been another way for Tella to get rid of their father.


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I heard that the second book makes you like Tella more, but I’m not sure if I can like her after reading Caraval. I guess we’ll have to see. But there’s also another problem I had with Caraval that I heard from some was even worse in the second novel.


Garber has the tendency to be very repetitive. She restates info or emotions we have heard time and time again, and it gets annoying. It gets even more annoying when that info is restated where I assumed in the first place that the info applied. I can’t tell you how many times Garber mentions that Scarlett’s father is abusive. We get it! That repetition just gets annoying. Wait…dejavu, did I say that already? (*insert rolling eyes emoji here). It takes away from a story that is really interesting.


Despite these flaws, the plot itself and the addictive scenery Garber sets up kept me turning pages, and I really do think people should read this novel, especially those just breaking into Fantasy as a genre. It’s funny, explorative, and not too heavy world-building or prose wise, so pick up this novel, my lovely Fantasy virgins! Let me know in a private chat or the comments below what your thoughts are!

Until next time, Nooksters!

#book #bookreview #fantasy