Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

caravalgarberPublished by: Hachette Australia
ISBN: 1250095255
ISBN 13: 9781250095251
Published: January 2016
Pages: 400
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

From when she was ten years old, Scarlett (from the Conquered Isle of Trisda) wrote to Master Legend of the Caraval, begging him to visit their isle for her younger sister, Donatella. Years pass, and it isn’t until she’s engaged that he writes back, confirming that he and his players will indeed be visiting, and he encloses three tickets to his invite-only show. Scarlett dreams of taking her betrothed there, even if she’s only ever spoken to him over letters, but it’s her sister’s harsh words that bring her back to reality. Their father is a tyrant, to get there in time they’d have to leave the very next day, and it’s Tella’s eagerness to leave immediately that makes Scarlett realise that there’s no possible way it’s going to happen.

We find that the sisters have already tried to escape their father once before, and whatever happened seems like it’s enough to keep Scarlett obeying any future orders. She’s looking forward to being ‘rescued’ by her betrothed, a Count she knows only through letters. Tella thinks Scarlett’s husband is going to be awful – why would he be so secretive otherwise? Also, it’s someone picked by their father… but Scarlett can only dream and hope.

The caraval however calls to them. The sisters both have opposing ideas of how to move forward, but move forward they do with the help of a sailor and a few half-kept promises…

This is an easy and quick read, where you turn a page and suddenly one hundred have gone by instead. It’s engaging, with characters who are easy to follow because you instantly want to know more about them. Descriptions and feelings are brought to life easily as Scarlett is quite empathetic, and you feel her reactions to the views, sights and sounds of the caraval instantly. The book also is beautiful. With many letters, at least at the start of the novel, they’re worked on a page of their own, complete with fancy script and a border, and the pages that separate the scenes are stunning also.

The plot is decent, believable, and has good pace to it. The one thing I would have like to see more of, early on, was our main character showing her skills, rather than telling us. She told us she’s used to people playing games and how perspective she is, however she keeps falling into trouble and believing the wrong thing – and it was rare that we actually got to see her acting and reacting in a way she was described to apparently be. I did like how she had morals and tried to keep to them, but then I wasn’t sure where she got the morals from since they seemed to be lacking in general in the worldbuilding around them. At times she seemed to almost be from an Austen book, and yet around them it’s nothing of the sort.

The magic is one of the strengths, but I feel like it wasn’t developed or revealed with as deft of a hand as it deserved. A dress that changes to suit the situation, or being able to pay with taking days off your life is all very exciting, however it didn’t drop into the narrative – it just felt a bit rushed. Perhaps meant to seem common and like it’s all possibly and nothing special, but… I don’t know. I found that part lacking.

That said, it’s a lovely book, and a good cliffhanger is always a thing to be applauded.

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