Caraval (Caraval #1) by Stephanie Garber | Surprisingly, it’s not a bad book!

«Caraval» will definitely be on my list of most surprising books of 2020! I don’t go into my books hoping to hate them, of course. But I always stayed away from «Caraval» thinking that it wouldn’t be for me or it would be filled with cliche YA tropes that would ruin my enjoyment of the book. And generally, circuses and carnivals, and performances are not something I seek in my books. 

But here I am, two days after finishing «Caraval», questioning myself if I loved it enough to continue reading this trilogy.

goodreads blurb:

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. 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. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic.



1 – «Caraval», for me, is the definition of “whimsical” and apparently, that’s what I love! I should have guessed it before, after reading and loving «The Bear and the Nightingale» by Katherine Arden, or after obsessing over «Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlands» when I was just learning to read on my own. Or even when I kept reading and re-reading «Little Prince» over and over again to relive that feeling of immense joy the book brought me.  

All of these books have something in common – the element of unpredictable magical events. These are not the books with strict rules for magic-users or boundaries of how far your magic can take you. These are the books where everything is possible, you just need to wish for it! 

2 – Stephanie Garber’s writing style pushed this whimsical element even further, creating the most atmospheric and fast-paced chain of events. Yes, the plot is important. Yes, the world the writer creates is what can suck the reader in. But the use of specific to the situation words, the structure of sentences and paragraphs make for a more dynamic read when done right. And I believe «Caraval» shows this perfectly. 

Some books require a tremendous amount of research – be it historical events, social skills, character studies, etc. And even though, «Caraval» didn’t have large world-building or deeply developed characters, what I admired the most was the presentation of the Caraval itself. Caraval IS a character on its own. 

3 – Because Caraval is such a chaotic place where everything is possible, I didn’t need an explanation for magical and odd incidents that had happened in the book. It felt true to its nature but at the same time, I was surprised by how cruel these incidents were sometimes. In the place where time runs differently, people are not what they seem or even look like, and maddening competition brings the worst out of the part-takers, ruthless things were bound to happen. But was it all part of the game or a plot to uncover the true nature of people?

As much as I loved the Caraval and its intricate details, this book was not perfect.


1 – Many readers felt disappointed by the lack of character development and rather flat characters in general. And I have to agree with them. There wasn’t a single character in this book that didn’t get on my nerves at some point in the story. 

  • Scarlett was a naive girl with tunnel vision. All she cared about was getting away from their father and if that meant getting married to a stranger and finally leaving the isle that is what she will do. Throughout the book, she kept concentrating all of her attention on one thing, as if thinking more broadly would bring doom to her existence. 
  • Tella was a little brat that I hated from the very first pages. That’s why I’m hesitant to continue reading this trilogy because the 2nd book – «Legendary» is about Donatella and her adventures.
  • Julian was the most cliché “swoon-worthy” male protagonist that surprised me at the end, but not in a positive way. 

2 – None of the above really mattered to me when I started the book. The setting was amazing, Caraval was beyond extraordinary and I loved every second Scarlett spent in the game. Until the big reveal… To say I was disappointed by the ending wouldn’t truly transmit my emotion. If throughout the entire book I kept holding my breath as I was flipping pages, in the end, I felt deflated, with one thought in my head: “This isn’t right! It’s not supposed to end this way. “ 

Generally, I love endings, and when I don’t really love the way the book ends, I still feel content with the ending the author provided. With «Caraval» it wasn’t the case. Sadly, I can’t go into details to not spoil the plot, but if you read this book, let me know how you felt about the ending!

My rating:

Despite all the negative points, I still enjoyed this book a lot, and I think giving it anything lower than 4 wouldn’t be right. Yes, it has its flaws but the Caraval’s atmosphere was very unique and took me by surprise. 

Do you love whimsical books? Have you read Caraval? What did you think?
Let me know in the comments below!

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26 thoughts on “Caraval (Caraval #1) by Stephanie Garber | Surprisingly, it’s not a bad book!

  1. Such an amazing review, love!!! 👏🏻😍 I really liked this book when I read it, a couple of years ago, and it was a surprise too, because I didn’t expect it. I still have to read the rest of the trilogy, but maybe I should re-read this one before 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s always nice to be surprised by a book! I didn’t really have any interest in picking this up but you definitely make me doubt myself…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahaha, I’d love to know your thought when (and if) you pick it up 🙂 It was one of those books I found on my app that I could “rent” for a few days, and I thought “why not give it a try?!”. There were many not so great things, but overall Caraval really blew my mind. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Being able to rent something or have audiobooks is so nice, since it makes trying something out so “low risk”. Might give it a try if it pops up on my audiobook app! 😁

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Love this review!! I agree with you that the characters seem flat; that’s not something I saw when I first read it, but I clearly see it now. It also bothered me that the magic system was inconsistent and not well explained. They used magic as a bandage at the end and I wasn’t a fan of that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! For the first 50%, I was very into the story and didn’t notice any flaws what so ever, but then… I think it was still a great book, but some character and plot choices weren’t my favorite. Have you read Legendary? I really need to know if Tella’s character becomes more likable. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, I really liked Caraval! But personally speaking I did like Scarlett and I don’t feel like judjing her. Or Donatella either, but I was much more perplexed with the fact that… it was all very uncessary? And very traumatic?

    One thing that put me off, but that much, is how again the book takes few italian aesthetic but has absolutely no substance in it (see Caraval map, Donatella name and Caraval name itself)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very traumatic, you’re right! I noticed Donatella’s name was Italian because Versace 😀 but I haven’t seen the map of Caraval as I read this as ebook. Maybe she explores more of that Italian inspiration in the next books? Have you read the other two? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m glad to see you enjoyed Caraval! 😀 To be honest, this was the book I disliked the most in the series… and it’s funny, the only book I bought in the series. After reading this I felt disappointed, like you, in the character development and I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue. I took out the last two books from the library… and I should have just bought them because the series just continues to get better!
    Donatella is my favourite character!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so happy you read the entire series!!! 🎉👍
      And so glad to hear that it gets better. Tella wasn’t really much in the story, but I kinda thought she was selfish and mostly cared about herself, while Scarlet would go out of her way to do anything for Tella. Since the 2nd book is all about Donatella, maybe we see a different side of her?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great review! I feel like a re-read of this series is happening this year before I finally get to Finale. The best part of the books is definitely the world building — Garber creates such a magical and fantastical setting that sweeps me away each time! I agree with you about Tella, but I was quite surprised by how that changed when I read Legendary. It’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised by a book 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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