Audiobook Review: Caraval (Caraval #1)

Published January 31st 2017 

Author: Stephanie Garber

Narrator: Rebecca Soler

Audiobook Length: 10 hours 36 minutes

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 . . .

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved 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 far-away, 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. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

I have been recommended the Caraval series more times than I can count. As the related series, Once Upon a Broken Heart, was recently released, I decided to try out the entire universe in order. The series centers around two sisters, Scarlet and Donatella (Tella). While Tella is more outgoing and carefree, Scarlet is more cautious and reserved. The two sisters live at home with their abusive father (their mother disappeared and presumed dead) and both dream of the magic of Caraval, a magical annual performance.

To appease her father, Scarlet is set to marry his choice soon. After multiple attempts to plea for Caraval to her island, she and her sister are invited to attend the next one nearby. The two sisters decide to sneak away for an adventure. They find a way thereby accompanying a traveler, Julian, who is going to the event. When they arrive, Tella disappears and the goal of the game is to find her. Scarlett’s journey in the story is to not only win Caraval but to reunite with her sister.

For Caraval itself, a mysterious and magical game that takes place once a year was a very intriguing concept. The whimsy reminded me of The Night Circus with illusion and reality almost being indistinguishable from each other. Within the game, it is difficult to tell what is real and what is not and even more challenging to not become lost in the illusion. As the story follows Scarlet’s experience in the game to try and reunite with her sister, this aspect played out well when she has trouble pinpointing reality versus illusion.

While I love descriptions in stories, it seemed the author was trying to find her footing in this one. There were some places where the imagery worked and others where it went a little overboard for my taste. The same goes for Scarlet’s character as many of her inner thoughts are centered on reminding the reader that she needs to find her sister. While I liked that she kept her sister as the priority, it seemed to almost be a disservice to her character. She has incredible potential, but it tended to be overshadowed by the constant mention of her sister.

The next story looks like it will be a continuation of this story, but change to Tella’s perspective so I am curious how that will play out.  In this story, Tella came off as very immature and verged on annoying for me, so I hope that she becomes more tolerable in the next story. Scarlet is a little naïve as she is fairly trusting considering her circumstances, but she is also clever. Her growing attraction to Julian, which could have been integrated a little better with the main plot, distracts her. I can see where the author was coming from with this additional storyline, but, for me, it needed to weave together a little more with everything else to make it more cohesive. Overall, this series is intriguing in many ways. While there are pieces that I think could be improved, it was still well done and enjoyable. I cannot wait to try out the rest of the series!

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