Author: Stephanie Garber
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Published: 31 January 2017
Synopsis: 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.
Caraval begins with a series of letters between Scarlett and Legend, the owner of Caraval over several years. Trapped on Trisda, one of the Occupied Isles, Scarlett’s only chance of escape, and her sister’s only chance – is the marriage her father, Governor Dragna – has arranged. Scarlett only has letters from her betrothed to go on, and so believes he is a kind man, yet she does not know his name. Scarlett’s mother disappeared many years ago, a mystery that nobody has solved. Scarlett and Tella long to get out from under the control of their father. When tickets arrive from Master Legend they see their chance and, Julian, a sailor, agrees to take them. Little do they know that everyone heading to Caraval will have ulterior motives, and things won’t be what they seem at Caraval.
Set in a fantasy world where dresses change colour and style, and where people are simply actors in a game, controlled by someone with strange powers, Caraval holds back as much as it delivers to the reader. Some secrets are kept secret, and it is not clear who can be trusted – can anyone be trusted? It is a game where participants follow the clues to win a coveted prize – one that some might even kill for – the dangers of Caraval and to Scarlett and her sister, Tella are everywhere, even at Caraval. Scarlett must work out if she can trust Julian – is he who he says he is, or does he know more about the journey to Caraval and her fiancé than he lets on?
Caraval had a nice balance of the fantasy, the adventure, and love – between sisters, and other kinds of love that develop throughout the story. Scarlett’s drive to find her sister is at first driven by her need to get home for her wedding, and is therefore her participation in the game takes time to evolve. Given that she has lived in fear of her father, her change in tactic and self-sacrifice soon comes through and she is caught up in the game, hurtling towards a disastrous series of events she could never see coming – it surprised me, as did the ending. The intrigue carried through the entire novel, and I hope there is a follow-up, because the ending felt complete in some ways but not in others.
A great read for fans of fantasy, Young Adult and a touch of genre blending that creates a storyline that kept me reading for hours. It is a delightful first novel from a debut writer, Stephanie Garber.