CARAVAL Review: Magic, Intrigue and Plot

Caraval was my most highly anticipated release of 2017 and I absolutely adored it! This book had me on the edge of my seat, both desperate for the end to come and for the book to never end. It had all the things that I love: magic, intrigue, romance, plot twists, character development.

I absolutely love books (and movies) where things are not as they seem and that show you a different facet of the story when you re-read (re-watch) it and Caraval definitely fits the bill. Between the characters, the magical setting and the plot, I never quite knew what was truly what until the end, but all may not be as they seem even there.

Caraval made me feel almost every emotion possible and left me wanting more. It’s the start of a new duology and I’m so excited to share my thoughts with you.

I’ll try to avoid any spoilers and be coherent (i.e. not just insert a million gifs or lines of onomatopoeia). Any mistakes are my own and I apologise in advance for any. This may be a bit long, so I’ve created a TL;DR version right after the official information.

Here we go…




Title: Caraval

Author: Stephanie Garber

Genre(s): Young Adult, Fantasy

Publisher(s): Flatiron Books/Macmillan (US), Hodder & Stoughton (UK), Hachette (Aus, NZ)

Publication date: 31 January 2017

Pages: 407

Series type: Duology


Buy a copy here:

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Official Synopsis

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.

Break Down – TL;DR

Memorable line: “Some things are worth pursuit regardless of the cost.”

What kept me turning the pages: THE PLOT

Rating: 4.5/5

Characters: Loved the large cast and their backstories. CHARACTER GROWTH!!!

POV: Limited third-person from Scarlett’s point-of-view.

Plot: Full of twists, hidden layers and suspense.

Re-read-ability: DEFINITELY. Potentially even after the first sitting.

Romance: Major factor but doesn’t hog the spotlight. Sweet but plagued with secrets.

The ending: “Woah…wait, what?” Mostly resolved with a good set-up for the sequel.

World-building: Strong sense of the world but limited in how much was explored. Would love to see more in the sequel.

Writing: Good balance. Strong character voice shone through.


Thank you so very much, Hachette NZ for sending me a finished copy to review.


Caraval was one of the most hyped books of 2016 in the lead up to its release in the beginning of 2017. Hearing all these amazing things had caused my expectations to skyrocket so I was very nervous when I started reading but I am so very glad that Caraval was as magical as everyone said.

My thoughts

I received Caraval in the mail a few days after its release date and immediately cracked it open to begin reading. It begins with a series of letters that are beautifully printed like real letters. (They sound incredible in the audiobook, link below in the Edition Comparision section).

The first fifty-ish pages are a bit slower than the rest of the book since they cover the events that are included in the synopsis and are a bit of background. Once I got past the set-up, I raced through the rest during my daily commute. There was a lot going on but I could pick right where I left off without any difficulty.

There is so much that happens at the end that wrecked me in the best way possible.

Caraval’s greatest strength, in my opinion, is its plot – it twists, turns, somersaults and keeps you guessing all the while. The characters and what we get to see of the world are really interesting but it was the plot that kept me turning the pages.

giphy (8)

I think the simplicity of the central problem helped keep the story focused and moving at a good pace. It does get more complex towards the end which requires a bit more attention since it also rapidly speeds up as we reach the climax and resolution.

It’s the kind of story where there are so many layers to any one scene that re-reading allows you to revisit scenes with a different perspective. I loved this aspect of the story and after finishing the book the first time, I reread some scenes and enjoyed theorizing about all the other things happening in the background or in other characters’ heads. There’s always a bit of uncertainty over what’s real or not real because remember, it’s only a game.


The magic of Caraval

As far as we know at this point in the series, the world of Caraval is largely unmagical except for the few exceptions such as the show, Caraval, which is bursting with magic. There are magical items and actors that can perform magical acts. Both items can last beyond the end of the show which makes them more appealing and more dangerous. (It’s tough explaining this without any spoilers so forgive me if it’s a bit vague).

We enter this magical world and discover the wonders alongside Scarlett. It’s quickly apparent that there’s more going on beneath the surface and each choice may have unintended consequences or rewards.

I loved the mystery that surrounds the show; there’s all this glamour and magic thrown around but also glimpses of the shadows. It’s such a fascinating world with so many sides to it that I really wish we got to see more of it and that the mechanics were fleshed out a bit more. This is, however, the first book in the duology so I have hope that we’ll be getting much more in the sequel.


There isn’t much I can say on this without taking away the magic of discovering these characters for yourself but I shall try. 😉

There is a large cast of characters but it isn’t difficult to keep track of them. It is difficult, however, to know what they all want and what they’re willing to do to get it. There are so many questions I need answered about these characters!!! They’re absolutely fascinating and I really hope we get to see more of them in the sequel.

Scarlett, our main character, is a sensible and dutiful sister. Her sister, Donatella, on the other hand is adventurous and carefree. They are such polar opposites but they share a bond that drives the story from beginning to end. Scarlett and Donatella remind me a bit of Elinor and Marianne from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility in that respect.

The story is told in third person through Scarlett’s eyes and I found this to be a bit of an obstacle in connecting with her but it did help view her journey as a character more objectively. I think these are just things that come with using third-person narration but I found myself enjoying Scarlett’s character.

In contrast, I wasn’t very fond of Tella. We spend very little time with her but when she is there, I didn’t find much to like. I’m not sure if that’s just me or if that’s part of the build-up to something in the storyline later but that’s where I stand at the moment.

I’m curious as to whether readers connect more to Scar or to Tella depending on their personalities.

As to the other characters…I won’t spoil the surprise.



One of the key themes in Caraval is the incredible relationship between sisters but I wasn’t completely sold on this. I think this was partially due to the lack of interaction between the sisters in the book and partially due to how I didn’t really like Tella. This is a big reason why I felt that it wasn’t a five-star read for me. But I am holding out hope that this will be more expanded upon in the sequel.


I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a central romance storyline starting out but it’s soon clear that there are romantic elements that run throughout the story. I really wish I could gush to you all about my feelings about the romance but that would spoil things for you so I’ll just say this: the romance is so wonderful in that its a great storyline that doesn’t detract from Scarlett’s but instead adds an additional complex layer to the overall story.

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Edition Comparison


Caraval has been published in a range of forms and I was fortunate enough to receive three different versions. Each one is beautifully designed and laid out so you don’t miss out no matter which one you own.

Australia/New Zealand Paperback (UK Paperback)

This was the copy that Hachette generously sent me and it’s gorgeous! I love floppy paperbacks because they are easy to keep open without the weight of a hardback. I packed my copy in my bag when I travelled so I could read it on the bus or train.

It’s full of beautiful illustrations that were like treasure hidden throughout the story that made the experience so much more magical. They are slightly less ornate than the US version but this doesn’t impact the reading experience at all.

UK version (left) compared to the US version (right)

I love how they have adapted the secret UK hardback covers for the paperbacks by printing one of the four covers (the clock, the tent, the rose or the dress) on the inside of the front and back covers of the paperbacks. My copy had a beautiful rose printed on the inside.

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UK Hardback

This was the edition which had four secret covers hidden under the dust jacket: a clock, a circus tent, a rose or a dress.



I was so excited when I removed the dust jacket of my copy to find the beautiful tent!


The inside, as far as I can tell, is the same as the paperback but with the heft (and sharper corners) of a hardback.

US Hardback

Personally, I like the colour scheme of the US cover more than the UK cover but I prefer the ‘naked’ UK hardcover to its US counterpart. It’s the same size as the UK hardback but the illustrations on the inside are a bit more ornate.

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Audiobook – Audible

You can listen to the first SIX chapters in the excerpt below. I LOVE the way the letters are narrated.



Caraval is a wonderful debut that had the monstruous task of meeting sky-high expectations and it did so with style (literally – look at those gorgeous illustrations). I thoroughly exploring the world and riding the ups and downs of the story. There is so much potential for a fantastic duology here. If you haven’t read Caraval yet, I highly recommend you do so.

About the Author

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

Author website • GoodreadsInstagramTwitter


Amazon AUS • Amazon UK • Amazon USBook DepositoryFishpond • Goodreads • KoboMighty Ape • WhitcoullsWordery

Imaginary Conversation – Would You Rather…

Be a player or spectator?

I think I’d choose to be a player but spend my time exploring all the nooks and crannies of Caraval. There is so much I’d love to see and explore. I might try to figure out a clue or two but at my own pace.

Receive a truthful response to your questions or a less truthful answer that could lead to more adventure?

A truthful response – I like knowing what I’m getting myself into.

Buy an item or pay for an experience?

I’d buy an item so that I could take a tangible piece of the magic back home with me. There are so many magical items that I would love to have and share with my friends and family who didn’t get to attend Caraval.

Note: I’m assuming here that the item keeps its magical properties after the show ends but I’m not sure if this is accurate.

Pay with a secret or with a precious item?

If I didn’t get to pick which secret/item, I think I’d pick an item. A secret I could use to pay with would probably be a secret I wouldn’t want to share.

Let’s chat

Pick one of the questions in the Imaginary Conversation section to answer or tell me what you think about Caraval in the comments below.


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