Caraval by Stephanie Garber | Book Review

caravalAuthor: Stephanie Garber

Series: Caraval #1

Genre: YA Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 407

Rating: ★★★☆☆

“Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find yourself magic in this world.”


Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.



Caraval was an interesting read for me because I was not a big fan of the first half of the story, but then I was a big fan of the last half of the story. That leaves me a bit perplexed on what to rate it, and how to discuss the book in this review, but we’ll give it a go. I’m going to sway from my usual review format and break this down into sections.

The characters

There was character development, I’ll give you that. When the book started, I wasn’t a fan of any of the characters besides Tella. Our protagonist Scarlett does grow throughout the story, but for the most part she was WAY to naive an unintelligent for me to actually like her. I do think I could’ve grown to like her over the story if it wasn’t for her constant whining and self doubt. Tella started out as a snarky and bold character, and then she was absent for nearly the entire book which was disappointing. However, I did quite enjoy the bond between the two sisters, and how much it drove each others actions. Julian, on the other hand, got no development in my mind. Yes, his character changes with the plot line, but it was so quick and sudden that I didn’t believe it. Sadly to say, his personality fits inside of a box. The main villain of the story- Governor Dragna, Scarlett and Tella’s father- also felt extremely one-dimensional to me. He’s abusive to the sisters, and a completely awful person. However, we get no backstory on WHY he’s like this. I just want to know where their mother went off to, and why their father is such a terrible person. Our final character is Legend, the mastermind behind Caraval. He’s the one that kept my interest piqued for the entire book, I want to know more about him as well.

The plot

We’re promised magic, mystery, and an exciting performance. Caraval does live up to it’s promise… sort of. I was so, so excited for the actual game of Caraval going into the book, and I definitely enjoyed that aspect of the story. Following Scarlett through the whimsical streets of the city, trying to figure out what’s actually real or not was highly enjoyable. The story is full of lies and secrets that create complex twists to keep both the players and the readers on the edge of their seat. Then the twists just keep coming. I know that’s how the idea of Caraval is supposed to be, but there were just so many twists that it was hard to keep up with the finale of the story. Once everything is revealed in the end, the magic suddenly disappears. The book lost it’s whimsical and mysterious charm, which made me sad.

The romance

Yikes, this was by far the worst part of the book, in my opinion. There was way too much of it, way too fast in the story. Nothing about the romance between Julian and Scarlett felt real. Also, Scarlett met Julian when he was trying to hook up with her sister and then ended up falling in love with her. Yeah, I found that just a little awkward. There are so many lies in the foundation of their relationship, which is part of the reason why it feels so fake and forced. Then, throughout the story Scarlett proceeds to constantly give up her own feelings and values for Julian. Her mission of rescuing Tella is lost over thoughts of how handsome Julian is, where Julian was, and what Julian was thinking. I expected more on the magic of the game, not nearly as much romance that I received.

The writing style

My way of describing Garber’s writing style is thinking that Laini Taylor and Tahereh Mafi’s styles had a baby. Out popped the lyrical prose that is present in Caraval. This type of writing style definitely added a lot to the book and helped shape the tone that I could feel Garber was going for. It was enchanting and fun to read- for the most part. There definitely were a few metaphors that had me scratching my head, or a few that I had to reread over to understand the meaning, but overall they were nice. However, even with its flaws, I look forwards to reading more books by Garber.

Overall, Caraval was an extremely hyped book that didn’t quite live up to my expectations. My biggest issues with the book were the romance and the characters, but that didn’t stop me from flying through the book and enjoying the game myself. If you love a good magical and mysterious story with a good helping of romance, I recommend you give this book a shot.



9 thoughts on “Caraval by Stephanie Garber | Book Review

  1. I definitely feel you on some of the book’s faults. I was also wondering why the girls’ father was so abusive, and at first I thought it might be a story reserved for the next book, but since the girls have distanced themselves from him by the end of this one, I’m not entirely sure. Now it just seems like Governor Dragna is under-developed as a character :/ I had the opposite sentiments for the sisters LOL. I liked Scarlett more than Tella at first, but by the end I thought they were both equally interesting and lovable. I really liked Julian, but I agree his story arc came a bit too late in the game. I’m really eager to know more about Legend, too! I get the feeling he and Tella might have a possible connection. Fabulous review, McKenzie! Sorry Caraval didn’t quite live up to your expectations. Hopefully the next one fits your fancy a bit more! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope the next one does too! I definitely think Governor Dragna is under developed, but you never know, he may try to hunt down the girls in the next book and perhaps we’ll get some back story. That’s so funny about the sister 😂, I just really love sassy characters. Oooh me too, I definitely think that Tella and Legend have some kind of connection.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah you’re right LOL. I don’t know why I thought the father would get gone after the first book hahaha. I agree he might return to hunt them down. Hopefully then he’ll be given more context as a villain. I definitely like sassy characters but it took me a while to get used to Tella for some reason. But I think the next book might focus more on her (and Legend) so I’m super excited for that! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This book was definitely way over hyped. I wanted to love it. I wanted to adore it. But it just felt so flat to me. Scar was boring and single minded and Tella was just…bleh. I also wish she had given a little more scope to the world. I never really saw it in my head. I ended up picturing it as The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern) because there wasn’t enough of a description for me to see something else. Really disappointing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Me too! I wanted to love it so badly, and while reading it I kept trying to convince myself I was enjoying it, but my brain kept butting in with “but are you really?” Yeah, the world building fell a bit flat to me as well. I wish there was a map of all the islands that Scarlett and Tella grew up on, not just a map of Caraval. Oh well though, at least there was one map.


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