REVIEW: Caraval – Stephanie Garber


Author: Stephanie Garber (website / twitter)

UK Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Genre: Young Adult, fantasy, romance

Buy Now: ebookpaperback

Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems . . .

Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long 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 they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.

Scarlett has been told 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.

I bought this book when I applied for a job with Hodder and spotted it as I browsed through their catalogue. The blurb intrigued me, and when it arrived I was struck by what a pretty book it was. I was fortunate enough to present a lecture alongside one of the editors who worked on this book, and the aesthetic was one of the primary factors they considered – four variant covers for the hardback editions, and this beautiful paperback, with Waterstones getting an exclusive version with red-sprayed edges. Everything about this book screams style and something worth a closer look – I can see it on my shelf from where I’m currently sat, and the stripey spine stands out wonderfully from my other books. Everything about it was perfectly designed.

It matches the book perfectly. The book is full of magic and description of rich, bizarre wonders. Colour and image are integral parts – Scarlett, our narrator, sees her feelings in splashes of colour which tinge her view of the world. She is due to be married to a man she has never met, whose name she doesn’t know, hoping it will give herself and her sister, Donnatella, a much-needed escape from their island home and their abusive father. Trigger warning: This book does show emotional and physical abuse from a parent.

For years, Scarlett has written to the mysterious Legend, master of Caraval, a magical travelling game which tours the world. She doesn’t hear back until a week before her wedding, when she is gifted three tickets – one for herself, one for her sister, and one for her nameless fiance. However, cautious and not wanting to risk freedom, Scarlett does not want to go in case her father catches her. Donnatella is not so worried, and stages a kidnap, convincing a young sailor called Julian to help her spirit Scarlett away in the night to Legend’s private island, where Caraval is being held. Except, when Scarlett arrives with Julian in the two-man rowboat, Donnatella is nowhere to be seen. Spirited away, Scarlett has the week of Caraval to find her or lose her forever – but she also risks losing her chance of escape by missing her wedding.

This is a book rich in style and description. The third person biased narrative allows us a glimpse into Scarlett’s thoughts, whilst allowing us to get description on how she looks, what she is wearing – particularly as she is given an enchanted dress which changes daily. This is also a great example of actually showing someone getting under a person’s skin – Julian continually needles and teases Scarlett, driving her mad as she is already stressed and anxious. In this instance, I fully believe their relationship, their chemistry – she finds him maddening, and attractive, and as much as she wants him gone, she also comes to rely on him as the only familiar face in a terrifying and unreal place.

For me, I would have liked to spend more time deep in the depths of Caraval, absorbing the strange magic of it and really exploring it fully. But as Scarlett is our narrator, she has tunnel vision towards her goal – finding her sister. As such, it does feel like to a point the festival of Caraval is glossed over a little. It doesn’t get the loving or involved descriptions that were present in The Night Circus, for example. But you do get backstory slowly being pieced together for the characters, and mysteries neatly being unravelled as Scarlett works her way through the challenge to find her sister. The ending was delightful, and unpredictable, and led nicely onto the sequel, which is due for release in May.

All in all it was a wonderful, easy read, with a great sparky romance, and a real aesthetic towards it. It had style, buckets of it.


  • The plot pulls you through quickly, and is continually unpredictable. I would have liked more time for exploration, but that would have slowed the narrative pace, so it makes sense that the plot was the focus.
  • A wonderful sparky romance, resistance and clashing personalities, to a surprised affection. Perfect, and really defined characters which melded well.
  • It’s a perfect holiday read – I blitzed through it in about two days, and just felt relaxed and happy afterwards. It hit almost every note I wanted.

Rating: 4/5 – My only regret is that it did feel it glossed a little over the world of Caraval, rather than soaking me in it, but perhaps this will be covered more in the sequel.

LEGENDARY is due for UK release by Hodder & Stoughton on 29th May 2018, in hardcover and kindle editions. Paperback release to follow at a later date.



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