Book review: Caraval

Caraval by Stephanie Garber


Paraphrased from Goodreads

Remember, 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. 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.


2.5/5 stars

I enjoyed this book, despite the lowish rating. It was a fairly quick and intriguing read. My feeling is that I agree with the negative reviews on Goodreads, but I still enjoyed reading this book.

Scarlett is an okay main character, but I found myself getting unnecessarily annoyed with her. There were definitely times where something was GLARINGLY obvious and Scarlett would be completely oblivious. And I found she worried incessantly about things she’d already worried about. And she cares SO MUCH about being lied to but like honey you’re in a game where that’s the point? And she was just naïve about too much. I just found her somewhat repetitive.

The other characters weren’t all that great either. Tella is annoying and her only personality trait is to be the Reckless Younger Sister, which isn’t a personality trait. At the end she’s made out to be this great, smart person, but there wasn’t any character building. Julian, the love interest, was your classic YA fantasy romance love interest. Like he was cute and all, but very flat in the end. The villains (the girls’ father, Scarlett’s fiancé) were too clichéd and too much of caricatures to be scary.

I liked the writing style okay enough. It’s written fairly simply but still detailed, if that makes sense. Like I could picture all the scenes, but there wasn’t a lot of flowery language and it wasn’t overly descriptive. It borderlines purple prose and could get annoying, but there wasn’t anything inherently bad about it. It was definitely YA language, which is fine considering this is a YA. I liked the use of colour in this novel too. I thought it was really interesting and added something to Scarlett’s character.

There wasn’t much world-building (see: no world-building) and the reasons for Caraval aren’t really addressed. I would’ve liked a bit more there. The ending was a total cop-out. The characters are literally like “yeah, we don’t really understand who Legend is or how the magic works ¯\_(ツ)_/¯” and that’s all the explanation we get. Which isn’t an explanation at all.


A reviewer on Goodreads put it really well:

Caraval is a fantasy without world-building or significant character development. It relies on its dreamy descriptions, purple prose, and a heavy helping of romance to make it dazzle.

I definitely agree with the statement, but I was okay with it for the most part? I went in to this book with relatively low expectations, not because it wasn’t interesting or that I had heard bad things about it, but just because I didn’t necessarily expect amazing things from it. That expectation was exceeded, but not by a large margin, if that makes sense?


Also one kind of side note: I’ve heard this book be compared to the Night Circus, and having loved TNC, I can tell you that Caraval is nowhere near the Night Circus. God, TNC is an experience. Like it’s so good and I loved every bit of it. But Caraval fell flat for the most part, and I can’t compare them.


I think my overall feeling is it was a good and interesting idea with poor characters but I still read it and enjoyed it? Does that make sense? I liked it and it held my attention the whole way through and I wanted to read it, I just wasn’t blown away. I’m also somewhat peeved about the end (see: my annoyance with YAs that don’t need to be series) but I’ll probably continue reading the series? If I ever get around to it.


Thanks for reading! Let me know if you’ve read this book and your thoughts! xx

29 thoughts on “Book review: Caraval

  1. I read this book nearly a year and a half ago and strangely enough it was the book that got me out of a too long reading slump. I hadn’t read that much the year prior (maybe like 5-6 books) and past years I didn’t like to DNF so I wasn’t reading much than either. Despite pushing myself through the first half—-how many times did I have to hear Scarlett say “my fiance”???—I let the excitement of the ending influence how I felt about this book. That’s what it was. Caraval gives you a purely emotional feeling. The same feeling I got as a kid when I pulled off a piece of cotton candy and allowed the sugar to melt in my mouth even though there was barley any substance.

    But alas, I am no longer a kid. Last year I gave this book 5 stars. I did a partial re-read recently and I thought, “Wow, this book is not that good.” If I read Caraval this year rather than last year, I would’ve given it 2 or 3 stars easily. I think it was the first time I had encountered purple prose in YA and fell in love with the whimsical aspects of it all. Now this is supposed to be a trilogy and if I don’t know if I care enough to stick around to find out who Legend really is.

    Thanks for the review (sorry for my long comment).

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    1. I had such a similar experience! When I finished it, I wrote on Goodreads that “it was wonderful” and I only had minor complaints. But then I thought about it more and realised there were actually quite a few things that bothered me.

      I also totally agree with what you say about purple prose! The first time I read it, I was like “oh this writing is so pretty and descriptive and magical” and now I just find it kind of annoying? I’m still undecided about whether I want to continue the series, but I’m leaning towards no.

      Thank you for reading and commenting! I loved reading your thoughts 🙂

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  2. I really liked this book. It’s great that you shared your own opinion and I can see why some people wouldn’t enjoy Caraval. I didn’t really like Tella either, I’m hoping Legendary won’t be annoying with Tella as the main character.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I LOVED this book but I also completely agree with everyone’s reasons for it not being such a great book. The characters really weren’t anything special and like you said, it does fall a bit on the flat side. But there was something about it that was still so enjoyable. I just remember not being able to put it down. I think there was something about it that seemed less heavy than other YA fantasy type books and it just didn’t feel I had to concentrate as much. I’m not sure if I’m even making sense to anyone else but I get what I mean haha 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally get what you’re saying! It kind of read like a contemporary but was still fantasy! I still thought it was a fun read and read it super quickly, despite all the negative things I said haha

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  4. Great review! I like what you said about her sister, I hadn’t thought about it in that way, but you’re right. She had no personality!
    Also I completely agree about the Night Circus comparison, I was honestly a little insulted after I finished Caraval because The Night Circus is so much better.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oof, I did not like this book either. It was so incredibly substanceless, and the insta-love between Scarlett and Julian in the face of Tessa’s absence was absolutely mind-blowing to me. Like, your sister’s missing, and you have the energy to feel horny? Needless to say, I was not impressed by that lol. 😛

    Btw, I also have those books that aren’t perfect in execution, but I still manage to enjoy them, so I’m glad you were able to get that out of this book at least. Excellent review!

    Liked by 1 person

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