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Caraval by Stephanie Garber

BOTTOM LINE: This one is going to be very, very popular and for good reason.

Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Publication Date: 31 January 2017
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

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 CaravalStephanie 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.”

My Thoughts: Sometimes, buzz surrounding a soon-to-be released novel is purely from great marketing. After all, we can all name at least one book that was hyped to the heavens but ended up being a major disappointment upon reading it. This is the danger with early buzz; you just never know if a novel is worthy of it. Caraval is one of those novels that was capturing attention as far back as May of last year, and it has only become more popular as its release date draws near. Knowing this, it was easy to open the book with some trepidation. Thankfully, my fears were completely unfounded. In fact, the book is totally worthy of every bit of attention.

The combination of romance, magic, sisterhood, adventure, and empowerment is magical. The story itself, of a mythical game held once a year and to which it requires an invitation to watch or play, is intense. Part of this is because, like Scarlett, you have no idea what is happening or who is who. There are rules, but you do not know them. There are clues and hints throughout the game, although you have to be able to discern them as such. In short, you are learning at the same time Scarlett is stumbling around trying to find her sister.

The magic portions are charming. The way time moves quickly, the dress that transforms itself depending on its mood, the little nuances that you know are not realistic all add a little dazzle to an already spectacular setting. The world of Caraval is almost like a fairy tale, with a sense of otherworldliness as well as timelessness that makes it a great story for readers of all ages.

As with any fairy tale though, there is a dark side to the story. Scarlett and Tella face almost constant abuse from their father, something Ms. Garber neither hides nor softens. His cruelty makes itself felt as an almost constant presence during the game, as his psychological hold on Scarlett impacts her decision-making. Plus, not everything in Caraval is wine and roses, as Scarlett discovers. Danger does indeed lurk around every corner.

Add on top of all this one kickass romance and one of the most amazing sister relationships you will find. Scarlett’s innocence is charming even as it is misguided, and her fight against her growing attraction is fun to watch even while a bit infuriating at how slow she is to realize the truth. However, it is her love and fierce devotion to her sister that rules the day, as it guides her every action. She lives to keep her sister safe and happy, even at her own expense. It is touching the lengths she will go to save her sister and a reminder that there are things more important than a man.

Caraval is not perfect but it does not matter. The story itself is so entertaining that you cannot stop reading it. Scarlett’s desperate search for her sister engages you but it is her own frailties that capture your heart. Combine that with a magical world and you have all the elements of a blockbuster. Do not let the fact that it is the first book in a series stop you. Caraval is one of the must-read books of this young year.

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