Caraval, by Stephanie Garber

Stephanie Garber has created a magical environment of delight and intrigue in the world of Caraval. A story ultimately about the love of two sisters, Caraval immerses readers in an experience that blends the senses into a tantalizing and beautiful escape from reality. I especially enjoyed Garber’s ability to seamlessly fuse sight, taste, and touch into cohesive descriptions. Perhaps one of my favorite lines from the book is, “She felt as if she could taste the red of the curtains. Chocolate cake drenched in wine.”

Remember, Caraval is only a game, but Garber has you guessing the entire way through whether there’s more to this magical island than what you’ve been told. Who really is the simple sailor that should never hold Scarlett’s heart but whom she can’t seem to get out of her mind? Where is the beloved Tessa? And just how dangerous is Master Legend?

It’s easy to read a book like this and imagine it all poured from the author onto the pages during the first attempt. But Garber acknowledges and thanks a whole team of people for helping her bring Caraval to where it is. As a freelance editor myself, I know how important the entire team is and how many drafts an author goes through to reach a book of this caliber, but I also know no one but the author can create the story born from her own richness and depth of imagination. Caraval is truly an adventure worth your time.

There are three reasons I give this book four out of five stars and not the full five. The first is that the ending seemed as though it didn’t get quite the attention the rest of the book received. The fate of some of the main characters happens suddenly. During these events, there is some distance put between the reader and the protagonist’s point of view, rendering what could be powerful, heart-wrenching moments a distant narrative of facts. It was as if when the magic of Caraval came to an end, a bit of the author’s magic left with it.

The second is that, as the reader, I didn’t fall in love with the leading man. I watched the protagonist fall for him, but Garber didn’t take me deeply enough into Scarlett’s point of view to feel I was falling for him along with her.

The third is the total omission of the use of the subjunctive mood. Although this is trending in American English and the subjunctive mood may eventually disappear completely, it was still uncomfortably grating to continually read sentences with phrases like “as if he was trying to show her,” when the proper, perhaps more formal now, use of the verb is were—“as if he were trying to show her.” Perhaps only other grammar gurus will understand how I feel, but it was distracting and less enjoyable to read so many of these peppered throughout the prose.

All in all, Caraval is an exceptional, clean read suitable for the majority of readers (I only caught one minor use of profanity) who love to get lost in a wildly imaginative fantasy. It tantalizes the senses, blending sensations together to create a fully integrated, magical experience.

Caraval is published by Flatiron Books and has been optioned by Twentieth Century Fox to be turned into a movie. I’ll be watching for this one!