Caraval by Stephanie Garber
A Book Which Played Games With My Mind

Title: Caravalcaraval book cover
Stephanie Garber 
Caraval (#1)
Hodder & Stoughton
Publication Date: 
January 31st 2017
Source & Format: 
Bought in Waterstones, Hardcover.
Page Count: 

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

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

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.

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caraval pinterest image
Caraval was a book that was full of mystery, intrigue and magic.

The cover was perhaps what drew me to the book most (I mean look at it, it’s beautiful), but the story was still equally as amazing. I loved how I was drawn into a game which changed when I least expected it, and how the world of where Caraval takes place was excellently explored but left enough for me to want the sequel.

Caraval is a magical book, there are moments of humor, romance, tragedy, and mystery and it was glorious. The prose was excellent, the pacing was slow at first but quickly picked up and each character was a mystery waiting to be solved.


Or was it? You don’t know if anything is real or fake, it constantly played with my mind and Scarlett’s too.  While reading, I was playing the game along with Scarlett, trying to solve the clues as to where Tella was taken and I loved it. It was full of suspense and intrigue, and I wanted to know everything. (I can be the next Sherlock omg)

There is so much intrigue surrounding the game too, with being granted a wish if you win and every contestant having to give a drop of blood before you play in case you die during the game. It showed that there was an encompassing threat surrounding Caraval and that even though the game might not be real, you could still die. My facial expression was constantly the same throughout the game.

dorothy shocked

Every person has the power to change their fate if they are brave enough to fight for what they desire more than anything.

The characters were well-developed but were sometimes annoying.

I initially didn’t like Scarlett as, during the first portion of the novel, she repeatedly comments about how she has to go back to get married for her father. However as we soon learn, she is afraid of her father due to his abusive nature which makes her worry understandable. However, once she begins to play Caraval, she was such an expert in navigating the game and it was great seeing how much she changed during her journey in Caraval. Scarlett is very protective of Tella throughout the book. It’s shown that she would stop at nothing to ensure that Tella is safe. After reading it, she’s adorable.

Tella, being Scarlett’s sister, showed a lot of sisterly love towards her and I loved this aspect of Caraval. The love between the sisters felt real and it showed that they cared about each other a lot. Tella is care-free and relaxed but don’t underestimate her. At key points in the novel, I learned that Tella actually has a mysterious side to her own. It was satisfying seeing her major piece of the puzzle being added to the massive jigsaw. There’s more to her than meets the eye.

Julian was an interesting character to read, however at points I felt that he merely only served as a love interest. He had a complexity to him which I adored. He knows how to play the game well, which is seen at key moments in the novel.


LEGEND. Legend is a mystery and I cannot wait to solve them. Figuring out who Legend could be was equally as frustrating as trying to figure out who A.D is in Pretty Little Liars. However, I couldn’t help but think of the appearance of Legend as Tuxedo Mask from Sailor Moon.


I was quite uncomfortable with the sisters’ father, however. He is abusive and controlling and it was unsettling to read. If you are triggered by abuse please be aware of this before you pick the book up.

However, there was instalove or basically love at first sight in Caraval. I hated that the main couple fell in love without no real scenes of flirtation or romance, or even a relationship developing between them. But, that doesn’t stop me from saying that they were cute together.

Hope is a powerful thing. Some say it’s a different breed of magic altogether. Elusive, difficult to hold on to. But not much is needed.

The world was confusing, yet attractive.

The world that Caraval was set in was perhaps one of my favourite parts of the book. The island is mysterious, magical and unforgiving. It will play with your mind and try to persuade you into taking bargains to pay. One particular example is that there is a dress shop where you can buy a dress for things. For example, worst fear or a secret you’ve never told anyone. The thrill of reading the illusions that go on within Caraval kept drawing me more into the world. There was no magic, and yet at the same time, there was.

However, I wish we had explored Trisda and the wider world more however because the world building did feel quite small. However, there is a sequel to Caraval where I’m hoping this will be explored.

Overall, Caraval was excellent and well deserving of a 4/5 rating. I loved how involved the characters were in the world around them. Being Garber’s debut novel, I loved being introduced to her writing style and I cannot wait to see more from her. Plus, after the epic epilogue, I’m ready for the sequel.

stephanie garber - caraval authorAbout the author

Stephanie Garber wanted to be an explorer until she realised most of the world has already been discovered. So she started creating her own worlds, which is why she now writes fiction. When she’s not writing, Stephanie teaches creative writing at a private college in northern California.

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Have you read Caraval? If you have, what did you think of it? Was your mind played with as much as mine was? If you haven’t read it, give me a reading suggestion. I’m always looking for books to add to my TBR pile, since it will never end.

Next post: Heartless by Marissa Meyer | A Beautiful Backstory to the Queen of Hearts

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  • Marissa

    March 25, 2018 at 8:04 pm

    I'm really enjoying your blog and reviews! This has been a book I've been considering purchasing for a while, and after reading your review I think I will go ahead and do it. If you're a fan of magical realism you should give Bone Gap by Laura Ruby a read! It's one of my favorite books in the genre.

  • Savannah

    June 15, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the book as much as you. The insta-love and Scarlett annoyed me but I did like the entire concept of it.

  • Cait @ Paper Fury

    June 10, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    Oh oh I've got this one!! I haven't had a chance to read it yet but THAT COVER THO RIGHT. ???????? I'm so super glad that you enjoyed it too and I'm definitely bumping it up higher on the TBR. Scarlett does sound a bit annoying at times buuut I'm glad the character development is spot on for her. And also magical games and mind-twisting plots?!? YES PLEASE.

    • Joel Rochester
      to Cait @ Paper Fury

      June 10, 2017 at 8:34 pm

      The cover is beautiful and it looks good naked too! I can't wait for you to read it and to hear your thoughts on it too! ENJOY THE MIND GAMES!

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Hey friends! I’m Joel, the main writer here at Fictional Fates. I’m a reader and writer who advocates for more diversity in literature.

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