What is Caraval? Well, quite simply, it is an exclusive entertainment that takes place over a series of nights, an all-encompassing series of games within games where nothing is what it seems and making the wrong decision could easily lead to an abrupt and violent death. It is the brainchild of Legend, a mysterious man who has been twisted by exposure to his own invention. In Caraval, Legend’s troupe of players play many parts and none of them can be trusted and rumour has it that Legend has played the villain for so long that he has become one. But Scarlett has spent seven years writing to Legend, begging him to bring Caraval to her island. And for seven years, Legend has refused – until now. Today, just days before Scarlett is due to marry a man she has never met, she receives an invitation to bring her sister and a third guest to a nearby island where Caraval is about to begin. Of course, Scarlett must refuse – but her sister has other plans. Soon, Scarlett will be forced to play Legend’s game. If she loses, her sister, her sanity, her heart, maybe even her own life, will be forfeit.
Advance word on Stephanie Garber’s Caraval has been nothing short of ecstatic, and in this case we’re glad we believed the hype. It is a lush romantic fantasy, exquisitely written, inhabited by a cast of marvellously colourful characters. Scarlett is a terrific heroine (without, thankfully, any discernible superpowers) who is forced to rely on intelligence and instinct as she proceeds through the game in pursuit of her sister. When she makes the wrong choices and events begin to turn nasty, that’s when we realise how cleverly Garber has led us into the trap – the surprises are genuine and we actually find ourselves caring about Scarlett’s fate. It’s an immersive experience, and there’s no wonder that the movie rights have already been snapped up.
Is Caraval for everybody? Probably not because – unlike many YA novels – it does feel as if it was written with a specific audience (cough: the female Twilighters) in mind. Although there are no supernatural monsters in here, its romantic undertow might be a little off-putting to readers who like their fantasies shallow, cold and senseless. But it is much, much better than Twilight, and if you enjoyed The Night Circus, or even Francesca Haig’s The Fire Sermon, we think you’re going to like this a lot.
CARAVAL / AUTHOR: STEPHANIE GARBER / PUBLISHER: HODDER & STOUGHTON / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 31ST