Caraval (Caraval #1) by Stephanie Garber

Book Review for Caraval

It took me two years to pick up this book on my shelf, and I devoured it in one sitting. This book is magical and perfect and I loved every minute of reading it. Welcome, welcome to my review for Caraval!

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“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.”

I’ve owned a copy of this book for almost two years now (and I even pre-ordered Legendary last year!), yet it has taken me until the eve of Finale‘s release to finally read this book. And what a fool I am for waiting so long! This book is magical and perfect and I loved every minute of reading it.

signed copy of Caraval "Welcome, Welcome Kaleena to"I was immediately swept away by Garber’s effortlessly captivating prose. Her words had almost a magical power over me and it was as if I was transported into the magical game myself. Lush and descriptive, she manages to describe the world, people, and settings so well that I can see them in my head. Simply put: the worldbuilding is magnificent. I love it and despite the danger I desperately want a few days of magical adventure. The magic was never really explained, it is almost a character itself and ethereal, but it didn’t really bother me much.

Opening the book with those letters to entice the reader and give the slightest hint of the world we are about to step in was brilliant. Caraval is told in a single, third-person POV that adds to the feeling of not knowing who to trust within the game. It added to my anxiety to not know more than what Scarlett interpreted to be going on.

I have to say this now — I get weak in the knees for morally grey, dark and handsome pirate types. An “ethical bad boy,” if you will. Which means that I essentially fell in love with Julian immediately. He’s shrouded in mystery and seems to know a lot about what is going on, making me never sure what side he is on but wanting redemption for him all the same. While the romance that develops is quick as the main events of the book take place over the course of five days, it manages to develop in a way that doesn’t feel like insta-love and feels genuine.

“She imagined loving him would feel like falling in love with darkness, frightening and consuming yet utterly beautiful when the stars came out.”

I adored Scarlett and Julian’s characters as they felt the most developed to me, but that could very well be because Tella doesn’t get as much page-time in the book. I really enjoyed the journey that Scarlett undergoes to conquer her fear, make choices for herself, and find freedom in this book. But even when she was almost paralyzed by those fears she didn’t appear weak or in need of a white knight. The game almost helps her to find her voice and find her power, as well as maybe believing in a bit of magic again.

“Every person has the power to change their fate if they are brave enough to fight for what they desire more than anything.”

This book is excellently paced and felt like reading the first act in a play, which is how I prefer my duologies/trilogies to be written. I don’t need everything to be resolved in the first book, but I don’t enjoy when a book is all rising action that ends with a cliffhanger and a million questions. I love that the book came to a sense of conclusion, satisfyingly tying up the loose ends and questions I had while reading while setting up the next act of this adventure. And right now I am really happy I decided to buy Legendary last year on a whim so I can dive right into it!

Caraval is an action packed and magical adventure that at its center is about the deep sisterly bond between Scarlett and Donatella, and the lengths they will go to protect one another. I really appreciated the theme of the power we all have, that if we want something bad enough we can make it happen. I know that in reality it isn’t as simple as that as there are systems in place that make it harder for some to achieve those dreams, but I think it is a powerful and positive message — and one that meant a lot to me right now. I really enjoyed this book and devoured it literally in one sitting and I think if you are a fan of strong sibling relationships this is a book you shouldn’t miss!

CONTENT WARNINGS: abusive father, murder, torture

Goodreads Synopsis

Caraval by Stephanie Garber coverRemember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her 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 faraway, 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. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.


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Hi! I’m Kaleena: book lover, runner, wanderer, and philanthropist. Life is an adventurous gift: through the outdoors and books. I run Reader Voracious Blog, where I post spoiler-free book reviews of science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and mystery & thriller.

42 thoughts on “Caraval (Caraval #1) by Stephanie Garber

  1. I have heard a lot about this book and have seen the various covers which are all beautiful but I haven’t been too tempted to pick it up, I have no idea why though. But after hearing your thoughts I am tempted to try it out!! I do love a magical world and I’m glad the worldbuilding was done well.
    And of course I do like the mysterious, morally grey ‘bad boy’ so that sounds good as well. And I love sibling relationships so it seems I will have a lot to enjoy in this book. I hope I get to read it soon. And I love the quotes you included ❤ Great review!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Sophie, I am excited to hear that my review may have encouraged you to give this book & series a try! I found it so incredibly magical and captivating, I really enjoyed it — I literally devoured a book a day for three days in a row! I hope you enjoy the book when you pick it up.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ….KAL WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME?! YOU WRITE AMAZING REVIEWS AND OH LOOK…I’ve now reserved Caravel at the library…I hope it comes soon, but omg deep sisterly bonds and an amazing premise for the book. Your love for books is just so genuine and amazing when you write it down and it makes me want to read every book you enjoy lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. *sobs incoherently* Thank you so much Haley, that means SO MUCH to me! I am really glad my reviews resonate with you and genuinely hope I never steer you wrong on a read! I hope Caraval comes in quickly and that you enjoy it as much as I did… I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Okay – I have heard about this book enough now that I have to read it. This is one of my favorite genres, and I need to make time for it. You make it sound amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m glad you enjoyed it this much. I read it like a year or two ago when we were in a bus drive somewhere with my class. I liked Caraval enough but I disliked Tella so much that I decided not to continue the series. I guess I should learn not to pick up hyped books since Caraval and Illuminae were both three star books for me 🙊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great review, Kal! I’m so happy you enjoyed this one! I definitely agree that choosing to open this book with those letters was such a fun and creative idea! It truly encapsulates the whole atmosphere of Caraval! I loved the ending as well, and really appreciated how Garber concluded it in such a satisfying manner, while also enticing me to read the sequel! I hope you enjoyed Legendary as much as this one! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Kelly! The whole trilogy honestly is so freaking magical and I love it so much. I really am so happy about how the books wrapped up without massive cliffhangers but also left me wanting more. Like THANK YOU! Legendary was a damn treat, hahaha!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Legendary was one of my absolute favorite reads from last year! It was just SO GOOD! It had me screaming by the end, but I was still so happy and giddy from reading because it was amazing. I felt so honored to have been able to read it. Hahaha!

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  6. Aww,, Kal, I’m so glad you liked it! I cannot wait to finish the series so I can rant about it with you.

    I loved it too, and while the characters weren’t exactly what I was into, but I loved the plot, the mistery, everything that was happening.
    I had some doubts about the world because it was all about Italian aesthetic but no substance. It just had naames and stuff that reminded of Venice 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t wait for you to finish reading it so we can chat about it, this trilogy is so damn magical and I love it so much!!! The characters… I didn’t enjoy Tella much in this one but I loved her in Legendary & Finale, so they do kind of grow on you. But you are right – the plot and worldbuilding is phenomenal. Although I didn’t pick up on the Italian aesthetic hehe

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve mostly seen people loving the first book and feeling mixed about the rest of them so I will be curious to know what your thoughts are on the other two ones. I think I do need to try it though because the writing sounds so magical and I am all about that kind of life. The pacing sounds strong and steady — well matched for the kind of book that it is. I am very curious about this trilogy and all the more now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This trilogy is pure magic made of words, my friend! I read all three books in three days (one book a day) and loved every single minute of it. While reading, I thought Caraval was my fave but as I’ve had some time between finishing I actually think that LEgendary may be my favorite of the trilogy? Close call between 1 & 2. I adored Finale as well, but it felt a teeny bit anticlimactic.

      Liked by 1 person

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