Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Caraval, by Stephanie Garber

A memorable fantasy about an annual competition, Caraval, where a select group of invitees compete for a fantastic prize at the risk of their lives and their sanity.  Through magic and illusion, one is never sure what is real and what is make believe.  This is even more so for Scarlett and her younger sister Tella, who come to Caraval to escape their abusive father.  Tella immediately goes missing and it falls on Scarlett to find her by the end of the contest in order to save them both.  But is she really saving them?  Nothing and no one is who they seem in a topsy-turvy plot that twists and twists again, leaving everyone pretty bewildered by the end.

As the plot twists pile up, there is a severe danger of reader fatigue by the end.  It becomes a difficult and wearying to care what happens to the characters as their identity and purpose never seems certain. So, this is not a novel in which it pays to become invested in their characters or their desires.

That said, the setting is luscious and sensual and very much like a dream -- in a way that few novels can pull off.  It's a richly descriptive work that invites you to immerse yourself, exploring the insanity and chaos that the protagonists are subjected to.  This is a story that works much better in print, but as Fox has already optioned the book for a movie, we can guess that the story will soon be ruined on a big screen.  It works best in print because it is a novel that asks us to use our imaginations as the characters do, constantly making us wonder what choices to make and more often than not setting us up for failure before we find ourselves plunging back in for more.

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