book reviews by Althea

*** Caraval – Stephanie Garber

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Caraval by Stephanie Garber

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two sisters have always lived under the repressive, abusive thumb of their cruel father. Spurred by the remembered tales of their now-missing mother, they dream of Caraval, which is a near-legendary annual carnival-slash-contest run by a ringmaster who calls himself Legend. Legend is rumored to have a dark side, but the prize that goes to the annual winner at his events lures in participants: the magical granting of any wish.

This year, Scarlett has nearly given up on Caraval. She’s been engaged, and although she’s never met her suitor face-to-face, she holds hope that marriage will be her escape. Of course, it would be this year that Legend finally responds to her long series of ‘fan’ letters, sending her a personal invitation and free tickets to the game. Conveniently, her sister Tella has just made the acquaintance of an enormously handsome young sailor who is willing to smuggle the girls off their island home and off to the ball…

There’s some dithering about the risk, but it’s a foregone conclusion that the sisters will attend Caraval. But once there, they will find that the game may involve both of them more deeply than they had ever guessed.

The overall feeling of the book is that of YA romance, although the bulk of the page time is actually given over to running around and plots. I still think that romance readers will like the book more than fantasy/adventure readers. Of course, those who enjoy the subgenre of YA books centered around the idea of a ‘game’ will also appreciate the concept. However, for me, I had a hard time getting into the story simply because the settings were so very vague and unformed. At no time could I really picture the world or physical layout that all the action was taking place in. I think that the game scenario of Caraval would’ve stood out more sharply if it had a firm ‘real-world- background to stand out from, but the sisters’ home is only vaguely delineated with wavy fairy-tale-esque lines. On the island where Caraval has been set up, we know that there is a gated enclosure, and then that there are balconies overlooking the ‘action’ for spectators – but then most of the action seems to take place inside buildings. What are people actually watching? Is it magic? It never really becomes clear.

Also, why I very much like plots with abrupt reversals and hidden agendas – I felt like there were just a bit too many here, and not all of the revelations really made an enormous amount of sense with the given background.

Overall – this was OK, but I won’t be holding my breath waiting for the sequel that is very clearly planned.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Flatiron Books for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinion is solely my own.

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