When I received Caraval I wasn’t even sure I’d read the book, let alone review it. But then, late one night, as I watched it sitting on my bookshelf in its mysterious black and golden cover, I decided to give it a try. By the time I finished it, the sun was raining gold and I knew I had to write another review.
I couldn’t do it though. Right away I mean. But it still was on my list. It’s been around three months since I read the book and I haven’t read it again, yet the taste of it is so fresh that I am confident I can write a review without a reread.
Here’s what the blurb says:
Whatever you’ve heard about the CARAVAL, it doesn’t compare to reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world.
Remember, it’s only a game…
Sure sounds magical! But then you have a look at the title page again and already it tells you that this is not a ‘pretty, magical’ book. Though at a lot of times it does give you that impression.
If I want to simplify the plot for someone, I would just say Cinderella goes to a magic show and anyone who has skimmed through the book, or worse, hated it, would agree with me. But I can’t say that. Because it is a lot more complicated than two sisters wishing, year after year, to witness the magic that they have heard about in stories since they were children.
Scarlett and Donatella Dragma from the Isle of Trisda have wished to attend the Caraval since they were kids, a magical event where a certain Master Legend, a magical figure who no one has ever seen, creates the most elaborate magical world and engages the audience in games that seem enchanting but can drive you mad. They have never left their island and have lived under the strict eye of their father since memory became their friend and despite trying have never gotten invitations to the game.
When they finally get their invitations, however, nothing is quite as they imagined. Donatella gets kidnapped and Scarlett must go to the Caraval, not to revel in the wonders she has dreamed of all her life, but to save her sister’s life. As the story progresses, the world of the Caraval gets more magical and enticing and thus more dangerous.
Characters & growth
Every one of the characters seems to represent a stereotype: Scarlett is the damsel in distress, Donatella is the devil-may-care sister, Julian is the bad boy who rescues the damsel in distress, General Dragma is the brute villain and so on.
But as you read on, you realise each one of them has their own agenda and motivation that is born out of love, lust or ambition. The interactions between characters reveal a lot about them but leave you thirsting for a lot more. Since most of the story is from Scarlett’s point of view, the reader gets to see her growth from a timid girl, who agreed to marry a man she never met, only to get her and her sister away from their father, to a fierce woman who is not afraid to use cunning and manipulation to get what she wants, and that of Julian, who is with her most of the times.
But other characters that appear less often, including Donatella, are not ignored either. They too are affected by the events of the story which are quite visible.
Even if the story had been completely lame, the style alone would have kept me reading. Stephanie Garber has used words to create a visual novel, people! You can see it, breathe it, taste it, touch it; practically live in it till you are on the last page without needing any pictures.
There is a lot of colour imagery and Garber has used flavours to make it even more palpable. The ultimate result is: she has built a world that is magical and yet it seems threatening. Nearly every character, every object is defined by a colour or a flavour, so they seem pretty attractive but, once again through imagery, they make you wonder if they indeed are what they seem. It won’t make sense till you read the book.
The pace is consistent throughout. It picks up at the right times but at no point does the story slow down.
Will I read the sequel?
Definitely! I’d decided this the minute I finished reading the last page. And I know there is one coming up because this happened:
Oh, thank you!! Yay!! And yes, there is 😏❤️
— Stephanie Garber (@SGarberGirl) June 4, 2017
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