‘Caraval’ takes readers through a magical ride, yet still lacks in ending

By: Lindsey Pfeffer, Columnist 

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own. 

Note: this review contains spoilers. 

Stephanie Garber’s “Caraval”  is a story that the Young/New Adult genre hasn’t seen in a very long time.

Scarlett and her twin sister, Tella, live with their controlling father, who has betrothed Scarlett to a man she’s never met. Scarlett dreams of going to an exclusive carnival show, where the audience is also part of the show.

 In a last-ditch effort to live before she’s sold off, Scarlett and her sister sneak into the show, and from there all hell breaks loose.

“Caraval” tackles trust in the most interesting ways possible. It makes readers contemplate whether strangers are looking to help or if your twin will betray you.

The last time I saw a book with this much questionable reality was 2012 and “Incarceron” by Catherine Fisher was hot on the shelves. Unreliable narration, warped time and space, abusive fathers, that’s where the similarities end, however. “Incarceron” was a mix of dystopia with fantasy elements, whereas “Caraval” is entirely fantasy. 

The story is told from Scarlett’s perspective, so as she becomes more and more wrapped up in the illusion, so does the reader.

I loved the way the tension was built in this novel. The setting was enthralling, the characters were complex and the worldbuilding was subtle and rich. “Caraval” turned into a scavenger hunt, with the prize being Scarlett getting her sister back. 

The stakes were high, tensions even higher. Scarlett had to depend upon a pirate who was spotty at best when it came to trustworthiness, though she finds herself slowly falling in love with him. 

Unfortunately, the ending ruined this for me completely. The author got readers so wrapped up in these characters.  I was rooting for Scarlett in the most impossible of scenarios, and the ending felt like a complete blindside. 

I never read the second installment because I was so mad on Scarlett’s behalf that I couldn’t see how the author would be able to redeem the betrayer.

This book rose to popularity in 2019 and is very popular on Booktok. Since its rise in popularity,  I’ve seen many instances of this exact problem. 

Authors will throw a wrench in the plot for the shock factor. They destroy characterizations and story building for the shock value of the reader and then present the next installment about the irredeemable character as if the reader should forgive. 

I wrote in an earlier review about how poorly Sarah J. Mass pulled this concept off in her last novel in her “A Court of Thorn and Roses” series. This shock value writing seems to be the case with “Caraval.”

 The author creates a situation that garners no sympathy from the reader, and then brushing over it for the plot’s sake is not going to win anyone any favors.

If you want to read about a rich world full of magic, illusions and heart-splitting relationships, this is the read for you. I know I said the ending was upsetting, but, in my opinion, it’s still worth it for the ride before the end to get to know these characters and fall in love with the world.

★★★☆☆

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