Books fantasy fiction Romance Young Adult

Magic, mystery and adventure in Stephanie Garber’s “Caraval”

Stephanie Garber‘s Caraval is a tale of magic, love, imagination and human spirit. This stunningly powerful and mesmerising debut novel is for anyone who loved The Night Circus and Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It is a strong story about taking risks and doing what makes you happy, not what other people tell you to. If you love a bit of mystery and magic fused with adventure, then you’ll love Scarlett’s story.

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.

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From the first chapter I admired Scarlett for her loyalty to those she loved, especially to her sister, and her determination to save her at all cost. But I began to like her character more and more as she got caught up in the performance of the Caraval. It was great to see her taking risks, making choices for herself and fighting for her own heart as she took control of her own life.

As much as Caraval is made up of magic, mystery and fantasy, it is also the story of two young girls who have grown up in an abusive home and who have learned to survive and how to escape (in their own ways). The power of this book comes from Garber’s ability to get the perfect mix between the endlessly enchanting fantasy and brutal, honest themes.

The thing I love most about the novel, though, is it’s message. When reading Caraval I felt as though there was one prominent message, and another that was a more hidden. The former is the idea that nothing is ever as it seems, and the latter is the thought that magic might not be the literal Abracadabra tricks and magical disappearances, but rather the smaller things in the world that are often overlooked.

We’re told from the beginning that in Caraval:

“Things aren’t always as they seem.”
— Stephanie Garber, Caraval

The novel brilliantly plays off this on various levels. Reality warps on a grand scale as appearances shift, time stands still, motives are ambiguous and death isn’t always the end. All these factors and more make for quite a mad ride.

It’s funny, because when we think of magic, we think of the big tricks: the disappearing acts, the cloak of invisibility, the sparks that transform one thing to another. We don’t think of the smaller things. The love that makes us invincible, the one spot of light in the darkness that gives us hope to go on, the strength that can come from simply believing in something that makes the impossible possible.

Garber reminds us that:

“She’d once heard emotions and desires fueled the magic that made wishes possible.”
— Stephanie Garber, Caraval

In the middle of the novel, Garber reminds us that everything is possible if we believe in it enough.

“He’d heard every person gets one impossible wish—just one—if the person wants something more than anything, and they can find a bit of magic to help them along.”
— Stephanie Garber, Caraval

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