Remember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her 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 faraway, 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. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.

I was initially drawn to this book because of the comparison that kept being made to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which is one of my absolute favourite books of all time. After starting the book, however, I realized I was in for a very different ride (not in a bad way).

The story is about two sisters – Scarlett and Tella – who live on an island. They are alone in the world, save for their abusive father, who happens to be the governor. Scarlett is however engaged to a mysterious count, which she’s never met, due to it being an arranged marriage.

The main setting of this book is the Caraval, which is a carnival-esque game. This year it happens to be on another island, though it historically has never been in the same location twice and traveled each time it took place. A mysterious man named Legend runs the Caraval.

During Scarlett and Tella’s childhood, Scarlett would write letters to Legend in order to try and get Caraval on their home island so that they may be able to attend. Scarlett writes for years with no response until she mentions that due to her upcoming nuptials, this will be her last letter. Legend responds by sending her three tickets – one for Scarlett, Tella, and Scarlett’s new fiancé. Upon arrival at the island, Tella goes missing and it soon becomes apparent that finding her is all a part of the game. Scarlett must solve the clues and find her sister before Caraval is over.

“Every person has the power to change their fate if they are brave enough to fight for what they desire more than anything.” – Stephanie Garber, Caraval

The writing style of this book is riddled with dreamy descriptions and prose. There are no shortages of similes and metaphors, but I think they paint a beautiful picture. Some descriptions caught me a little off guard and I had to read them a second time to understand them a little better – which I know can throw some people out of the story too much – so if that kind of writing bothers you I would air on the side of caution.

“She imagined loving him would feel like falling in love with darkness, frightening and consuming yet utterly beautiful when the stars came out.” – Stephanie Garber, Caraval

One of the issues I had with this book was the lack of world building. It’s not so absent that it’s unreadable; but it’s definitely noticeable in the beginning. I don’t necessarily think this is detrimental to the story since it’s primarily a plot driven novel and I don’t think the intended audience really cares about the history of the world beyond what we see.

I personally think that what keeps this book moving at a good pace is the intense plot decisions that Garber made and how we discovered things as Scarlett did; but what I found even a little more interesting was that I could appreciate the real change that takes place in Scarlett’s character throughout this adventure. I think it’s a really important lesson to realize that just because you want someone else to be happy, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to sacrifice your own well being in the process.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed this book and would be more than willing to continue on within this world.