Yay or Nay: Caraval Book Review

The Hunger Games meets Alice in Wonderland in the spellbinding tale of Caraval.

“Welcome, welcome to Caraval! The greatest show by land or by sea. Inside you’ll experience more wonders than most people see in a lifetime.”
Author: Stephanie Garber
UK | Hodder and Stoughton | January 2017
US | Flatiron Books | January 2017
Young Adult
Series: Caraval, Book 1 of 2

This is a spoiler-free, non-sponsored review of Caraval.


Caraval follows the story of Scarlett Dragna, from the conquered Isle of Trisda. She and her sister, Donatella, have been living in fear from their violent and cruel father. He arranges a marriage for Scarlett and she sees it as a way to escape the clutches of her father forever.

But, as the date of her wedding approaches, Tella whisks her sister away to join Caraval - a magical carnival where the audience has special participation and plays an elaborate game to get a coveted prize.

As soon as they arrive on the island, Tella is kidnapped by the Caraval master, Legend. Scarlett quickly realizes that her sister is the centerpiece of the game and whoever finds her first wins a wish - any wish. Scarlett is motivated to find her sister as quickly as possible and go back home in time for her wedding, but the game was not as easy as she expected.

As she goes along the clues left by the Caraval master, she makes allies with different players, stumbles across a multitude of secrets, and finds out that Caraval does not seem to be the fun and magical performance it claims to be.


The Hunger Games meets Alice in Wonderland in the spellbinding story of Caraval. Here we have a protective sister trying to win a game in a world where reality and magic co-exist.

This book has been one of the most anticipated releases of 2017 and has been getting a lot of hype in social media like including Instagram and Twitter. It has also gathered a lot of positive reviews from popular YA authors and media sites.

After reading the book, here’s what I think.

The setting: 3 stars

The story was set in a world where magic and reality co-exist. An amazing world of empires was described in the beginning of the story, but it was not elaborated as the story progressed.

There was no clear description of the conquered Isle of Trisda, aside from mentioning that it was conquered and the people who lived in it wore gowns, gloves, frock coats, and waistcoats.

Fortunately, the main venue of Caraval did not suffer the same fate. As you read along, you’ll come across secret tunnels, canals, and castles - all of which have a reason for existence that adds more color to the story.

The characters: 4 stars

Character development was great in this story. You get to know them in the beginning, create your own perceptions about them in the middle, and find out that most of them are not who you expect them to be. They will toy with your trust as you read along, and you will not know who is on Scarlett’s side - and your side! - until the very end.

However, I sometimes got the feeling that I have already read about the characters. Scarlett is very much like Katniss Everdeen - a girl who will risk anything to protect her sister, even if it means risking her life. Master Legend is reminiscent of The Mad Hatter - someone who looks like a gentleman but has a whimsical personality. There is also Aiko - a girl who walks and talks like Luna Lovegood.

Whether they were inspired by these literary icons or not, you will soon forget the feeling as the plot becomes more exciting. But, that does not erase the fact that it was not a very good feeling to have at all.

The plot: 4.5 stars

If there is anything that could accurately describe the plot of this story, it is that there are a lot of plot twists you will encounter. It is these plot twists that will keep you turning the pages. It will push you to keep reading more than the magic or the characters. I won’t elaborate more on this section because for Caraval, the less you know about how things turn out, the better.

The writing: 4 stars

The way Stephanie Garber weaved words to form her story was definitely stunning. It was beyond what you expect from debut novel written by a young author.

It was very colorful - literally. She used colors to express the intensity of emotions, which causes the readers to accurately feel the strength of the emotion, too. There will be lines like these:

Scarlett’s feelings came even brighter than usual.
The urgent red of burning coals. The eager green of new grass buds.
The frenzied yellow of a flapping bird’s feathers.

He’d finally written back.”

Aside from that, the story was delivered straightforward. Except for the repetitive - and cheesy - description of the romance formed between two major characters, the writing was not bad at all.

The ending: 2 stars

Caraval could have been a stand-alone novel and that would have been amazing already. But, the author placed one last, gripping plot twist at the end and built the foundations of the second novel, or so I think.

Now, I’m sure a lot of readers are just dying to know the continuation of the story. A bigger number are waiting to see how Stephanie can top the amazing novel she has already treated us to.

The verdict: A BIG, SPARKLY YAY! 4 stars!

There are lots of room for improvement and it may not top other fantasy novels set in magical islands, but Caraval definitely has an irresistible charm of its own. It is a novel that every YA reader should not miss and every shelf should display. I wouldn’t be surprised if this book will turn into a blockbuster movie because, truthfully, it has everything that it takes.

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