Caraval by Stephanie Garber is a story of magic, romance, deception, and determination. It follows two sisters, Scarlet and Tella who are invited to play in a magical game called Caraval. Scarlet, who has always dreamed of playing, refuses to go because she is to be married in a few days. Tella and a friend named Julian kidnap her and take her to Caraval against her will. Once they arrive at the elaborate game that involves many actors and settings, crazy things begin to happen. The line between make-believe and reality gets more blurry the deeper Scarlet goes into the game. Then, when Scarlet learns that her sister has been kidnapped and the object of the game is to find her, she becomes desperate to win in order to get her back.
What I liked
I really liked the premise of Caraval with its characters being lured into a magical game that is played in a world where every detail is finely crafted to draw the participants further into the game. The setting of Caraval reminded me of a cross between Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and a Walt Disney theme park. Author, Stephanie Garber does a great job of describing her magical world. She is a master at using colorful language to lead her readers toward a sense of wonder on one page but then shifting quickly to scenes of horror on the next.
What I Did Not Like
I had a difficult time with the author’s tendency to interrupt every scene of dialogue with complex descriptions of each character’s motivations. I think the story would have flowed much better if most of those paragraphs had been edited out. I also grew very tired of the way the main character, Scarlet waffled for almost the entire book on rather or not she or loved or hated Julian. It worked for about the first half, but then I found myself wishing she would stop agonizing over her roller coaster feelings for him and focus on the game instead. But, I probably felt that way because I’m not a teenage girl, the target audience for this book. In my opinion, a good romance is a great story element as long as it doesn’t dominate the bigger plot.
My personal dislikes aside, I believe Caraval has a lot going for it. It has a great premise, some strong characters, romance, and lots of magic. I’m sure it will leave most younger readers completely enchanted.
If the book Caraval were a movie it would be rated PG-13. There are no real content issues with the story, only some steamy talk and situations that are never followed through with other than a few passionate kisses. Violence is a bigger issue with a couple of brutal and bloody scenes. Beyond that, younger audiences might be creeped out by some of the spookier scenes. In my view, age 13 and up is a good measure for this book.