Scarlett and her sister, Tella, live on a tiny island ruled over by their father, a father who is abusive and cruel. Scarlett is engaged to a man, a Count, who she has never met through a marriage devised by her father, and is relying on her future marriage to save her and her sister from their small and scary world. Tella has other plans though – she knows of Scarlett’s fascination with Caraval, a giant, magical and unique “performance” in which the audience participate with a chance to win the grand prize. And this year, Scarlett has received 3 invitations with a chance at winning one wish.
Tella and the sailor she has recently met whisk Scarlett away to Caraval, despite her protests, but even before Scarlett has set foot on the island, Tella is gone and has become the central part of this year’s Caraval plot – the winner will be the person who finds her first.
The world of Caraval is different to everything both we and Scarlett know and understand. Despite constant warnings that everything that happens in Caraval is just a game devised by the mysterious and illustrious Legend, Scarlett becomes immersed in it. Is it real or not? Is she and the only person she really loves in true danger, or is it all part of the game?
This book was everything I wanted it to be and more. Caraval was enticing, exciting, enthralling, and every other good word you can think of to describe a book like this. I was totally immersed in the story from page 1 and I devoured it.
Other readers have described Caraval as similar to The Night Circus and I definitely agree with that – it has the magic and enchantment of it, but plus a whole lot extra for me. I liked The Night Circus but I loved Caraval. Throw in a bit of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus too with the storyline and magic going right and wrong, plus the fear and excitement of Pirates!, an old YA favourite of mine when I was a teenager, plus a bit of Disney magic on the darker side, and you’re almost there. Honestly, you just need to read it to understand.
From the very beginning of the book, you’re thrown into a game – not the game of Caraval, but the game that the sisters’ life currently is as their father punishes the sister who is innocent to stop the other from doing anything wrong again. You straight away understand the deep bond between the sisters who only have each – at first the reader is confused as they try to blame the other for doing wrong, but we then realise that it is the innocent one who will receive the punishment and they’re trying desperately to protect each other through their lies.
And so the book continues, a giant game which the reader is just as immersed in as the characters. The brilliance of the book lies in the fact that pieces are only unveiled to us at the same time as to Scarlett. There is a constant sense that something isn’t right in every situation, that more is lurking beyond what we can see on the surface, and you’re left constantly debating whether it really is all a game or not, even as you and Scarlett are both constantly told that it is.
I love that the central relationship in the book is between two sisters who so desperately want to save one another. There is, of course, a romance, but this plays second fiddle to the sister relationship. It reminds me to an extent of The Hunger Games and how Katniss steps up to save her sister’s life despite everything else. The characters were so deep and well drawn – I’m honestly finding myself missing them despite only finishing the book last night!
I love how well written and imagined the world of Caraval is too – you really can picture every single scene in the bright detail that it’s painted in. I love that the scenes are often described in terms of the scent in the air, a characteristic feature of the book. Caraval is a YA book, but I believe it’s one of those ones that will appeal to so many. It’s packed full of description, action, fairy tale magic and more. Every chapter held a new surprise or a new twist without ever boring you. Honestly, you need to read this one to believe it – this is my first favourite read for 2017 (since it isn’t released until the 31st January!) and I imagine it’s going to hold that top spot for quite a long time.
Oh and did I mention, there’s going to be a sequel…
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