Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Happy Tuesday Everybody

Hope you all had a nice weekend. As some of you may have seen on my various social feeds, this past weekend was the last at my job. I had worked there for the last year and a half, and all through my Masters this past year or so, and it was really great to have something at the weekends to keep me going money wise. But, as some of you will have seen me write about on here and also seen on social media, I will be starting an internship with The Irish Daily Mail in Dublin next month, so it was time to hand in my notice. Like any job, I had some bad days there. But I also had some really good times as well, and met some really lovely people. They got me the cards below which really wasn’t necessary, but I really appreciated it. But it’s time to close that chapter and start a new one, and I am so excited about moving to Dublin and seeing what opportunities await me there. I’m also kind of nervous, I’m not going to lie. But I think nerves are good for keeping you on your toes.

But more on that later. For this post I thought I’d share a new book with the readers among you. I love getting into a good book, and it’s something that I’ve haven’t been able to fit in over the last while. But, I am definitely going to make the effort to get back into it on a more regular basis. And I like the idea of having a books section on here where people can come and find some reading inspiration amongst the must-read books, or indeed, books to avoid. This book, Caraval, is the debut novel from Stephanie Garber, who when not writing fantasy novels, teaches creative writing at a private school in California.

The plot centres around sisters Scarlett and Tella, who are essentially chalk and cheese. Scarlett is more reserved and cautious, while Tella is more wild and constantly in search of the next adventure. They live under the hold of their abusive father, with Scarlett desperate to keep Tella safe at all costs, while Tella thinks Scarlett needs to worry less. Scarlett is also due to marry a man she has never met on her father’s insistence, and though she has her doubts, she sees it as a chance for her and her sister to escape their father. As children, the girls dreamt of taking part in the mysterious magical game known as Caraval. For years, Scarlett wrote to the eccentric creator of the game, Legend, and for years she received no reply. Then out of the blue, days before she is due to meet her future husband and get married, Scarlett receives a letter inviting her and Tella to take part in the annual Caraval. Knowing that it will clash with her wedding and incur the wrath of their father, Scarlett is reluctant to attend until Tella convinces her that they don’t have to stay the full five days of the game, and that they will be back before their father even notices they have gone. Shortly after, Tella goes missing, and the rules and prize of this years game becomes apparent: Legend has taken her, and whoever can follow the clues will find her, and also win one wish. Despite her reservations, Scarlett is forced to play the game if she wants to locate her sister before she is lost forever. With the help of Julian, a sailor with a dark past, she attempts to solve the clues in a world where the lines between fantasy and reality are constantly blurred, and every character you meet is untrustworthy.

“Welcome, welcome to Caraval! The grandest show on land or by sea. Inside you’ll experience more wonders than most people see in a lifetime. You can sip magic from a cup and buy dreams in a bottle. But before you fully enter into our world, you must remember it’s all a game.”

Going into reading this book I had a different idea of what it would be. When I read the cover, I imagined Caraval being an all-out, breakneck speed, contest. Something a bit like the intensity of The Hunger Games, but without all the murder, if that makes sense. In actual fact, it’s a slower story, despite the race against time to solve the clues and win the prize. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there were definitely times where I felt that the story could have done with a shot of adrenaline, given the supposedly high stakes. Further to that, I couldn’t help thinking that Scarlett was the wrong character to mould the story around. She doubts everything, plays strictly by the rules and relies on others to make her decisions for her. She is obviously our heroine because Garber is striving for a huge character development where she shakes off all the above traits (I won’t tell whether she does or doesn’t by the end, so as not to ruin what happens), but I couldn’t help thinking that Tella would be the more interesting character to take the lead, given her rebellious and headstrong nature. Revelations in the final chapters are shocking, and do hint at there being more to this story, so a sequel may explore that with Tella at its forefront.

The world of Caraval and the magic that powers it is beautifully realised by Garber. Between magical clothing that changes depending on emotions, bargains whereby you give up two days of your life to gain information within the game to help solve clues, and numerous riddles, there is plenty to sink your teeth into if you are a fantasy fan. Add to that the rich tapestry of locations and characters within the game, plus a reversed day/night cycle that sees everything shutdown during the day and reopen at night, and there is plenty of intrigue within the story. Like I said, it just could have done with a boost of adrenaline here and there.

The only real criticism I have is the obligatory romance that is often seen in this genre. I thought was far too rushed in order to create a dilemma in the closing stages which never bears fruit anyway, so it is superfluous to requirements in my opinion. But, I mean, that could be just me. If romance is your thing, you might enjoy it. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of romance, because usually it’s soppy, clouds the action, or is used to fill the cracks in a story. The only time I don’t mind it is when it is subtle and doesn’t over take the main plot.

Overall, I think Caraval is intriguing enough to give it a look. A sequel is in the works, and the film rights have been snapped up by 20th Century Fox, so this could likely become the next big book-to-movie series that everybody is talking about. I wouldn’t say I’m chomping at the bit, counting down the days, waiting for the next one. But it’s a world I wouldn’t mind returning to down the line.

For now, the next book I’m looking forward to getting into is The Run of his Life: The People vs O. J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin. I was obsessed with the TV series they made based on it, and I ended up watching it all in three days. And I’m looking forward to getting more knowledge around the ins and outs of the O. J. case. It’s one of those cases that everybody is familiar with on some level, but as I was a child when it was happening years ago, I’d only really know the basics that everybody knows. I’ll let you know what I think of it.


As always guys, you can find me at the following also: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. And I’m also on Snapchat, just search for thejournalsofaj. Feel free to give me any recommendations for books, TV, films, places to eat, anything you think I could look into and share.

Have a good week. ✌🏻



4 thoughts on “Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

  1. I got some magical clothes here too Steve. I take them off and fire them on the floor and they mysteriously disappear. Next time l see them they are smelling fresh, ironed and neatly folded on a shelf in the bedroom. Should be worth your while investigating when you’re with The Irish Daily Mail.


      1. Ahhh Steve that’s it, burst my bubble. Next thing you’ll be telling me is that there’s NO Santa and that the Tooth Fairy was all in my head as the teeth were leaving…


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