4 / 5 Stars
Wildly inventive and fun, but at times slightly over-egged.
I'd heard so many wonderful things about this book that it was high on my birthday wish-list (and yes, a relative caught on and purchased it for me - thank you!).
With lofty expectations, I commenced reading. Mostly I was completely engaged, but for a few minor niggles. But first, here's a quick summary of what it's all about.
Scarlett is a young woman, set to marry a count at her father's behest. Her sister, Tella, is a far more wilder sort, and they both harbour a desire to get as far away from their childhood home as possible.
Scarlett is desperate to get an invite to the Caraval, a magical event run by a mysterious man called Legend. It's one big game, spread out over five days, and whoever wins receives a special prize. So, when her sister drags her into this year's Caraval, accompanied by Julian, a handsome sailor, she finds it hard to resist - even when her sister goes missing.
With Tella now the goal of Caraval, Scarlett must solve the mystery and rescue her sister. However, the game takes a darker turn than she anticipates, and soon, she's left wondering what's real and what's not...
So let's start with the wonderful parts of this book, of which there are many. The sheer inventiveness of the world of Caraval is enchanting. In a similar vein to The Night Circus, Garber leads the reader into a world of magic, and thanks to her descriptions, it's easy to imagine the winding streets, dark tunnels and rich buildings that Scarlett travels through.
Likewise, it's excellently plotted, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the pages turning at a good pace. Although there were some parts that I saw coming, it was still a pleasure to 'go on the journey' to get there.
I did have a few minor quibbles, however. The ending felt slightly too over-the-top and left me incredulous, but I could let this pass, as it was still enjoyable. My main criticism were the characters themselves, as I felt we'd seen them before. Julian, the bad 'un turned good, is your archetypal hero. Scarlett, who is largely helpless and dependent, is your typical heroine. Tella, wild and unpredictable, seems to be a rehash of other women we've seen in other books. Just for the record though, there were some awesome characters in there. The cruel yet complex father intrigued me, as did Legend himself. It's just a slight shame that the main characters felt so 'tried and tested'.
But this is only a small thing - as overall, I ENJOYED this, and that is very much the key point. I'll be reading the sequel and looking forward to finding out the meaning of that cliffhanger at the end!