Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The CARAVAL Trilogy by Stephanie Garber

Rating: A jewel encrusted mask straight from Venice

Highlight of note: It is actually really hard to tell what is real and what is pretend in some parts. It's very well done.

Will you read more by this author? Absolutely.

In part because I have such a large backlog of reviews, I'm going to cheat a little and give you a review of this entire series all at once. The books don't really stand alone very well, although the first one almost does. This does affect what star rating I would give if I were doing that though as I felt the first book was completely in the 5 of 5 camp but the third was more like a 4. It was a decent ending for the series and tied everything up nicely, but the first two books had me breathlessly reading every time I could grab a second and the third was easy to consign to designated reading periods. So, basically, I loved the first two and merely liked the third, which felt like a disappointment since the first two were so engaging. Overall, I do recommend the series though.

The books all revolve around a pair of sisters. Though told in third person, the first book exclusively follows the elder sister while the second one focuses entirely on the second. The third book switches between the two.

In their fantasy world, there is something called Caraval. It is run by a mysterious magical-type fellow named Legend who no one outside of Caraval employees knows what looks like, and the whole thing is fundamentally a live action role play game in an enchanted themepark. Players and observers enter a magical city filled with actors where they are given clues to try to solve a mystery before any of the other players. When you meet someone at Caraval, you don't know for certain if they are a fellow player, an observer, or an employee. Sure, they might say they're one of those things, but they may well be lying! I won't lie; I want to go to Caraval.

The winner of the game receives a prize: a wish. In book one, our lead, Scarlett, doesn't care about the wish. She cares about the fact that her sister has been kidnapped and finding her before she is executed is the object of the game. Because it's so hard to tell what's real in Caraval, Scarlett doesn't know for certain if her sister is truly in danger or not, but it seems safest to act as though she is. As a reader, I went back on forth on the issue myself, which was very exciting.

In book two, younger sister Tella takes center stage. She does care about the wish. A fortune telling deck that always speaks true has told her that her long-lost mother is in a magical prison and is going to die. So Tella goes into the topsy-turvy world of Caraval, intent on winning the wish and freeing her.

Book three ties up all the loose ends from the previous entries. It has its own plot, but I fear telling you much about it would spoil the earlier works. But know that while it was less overwhelmingly amazing than books one and two, it does end the series on a solid and satisfying note.

I found both Scarlett and Tella to be highly likable and enjoyed their love interests. The girls are presented with a series of puzzles and problems, to which they respond with intelligence and plausible emotion. The only exception I found was with a character in the first book who I was supposed to take as absolutely heinous and deplorable but found not really all that bad for the world he lived in. Was he misogynistic and entitled? Sure. But he was a noble in a patriarchy, so I felt he needed to be a little worse for me to really hate him.

This series is about discovering what is true in a world where truth can be very hard to determine. Some people are who they purport to be while others aren't, and the girls must learn to tell the difference. It's about figuring out who people really are, and also who you really are.

It's easy for me to see why this series was popular. I hope that Ms Garber follows it up with something equally entertaining.


Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.



6% I have no idea what the Count's letter says as the bookmaker has chosen to present it in such a way that it is illegible on a Kindle. ... Nevermind. I figured out how to enlarge it. It was still very difficult to make out though. And disappointing in its lack of content considering the trouble I went to deciphering it.

7% The confession ritual, sins written on paper that the priests burn, is really neat.

8% I wonder if the mother really abandoned them or if their father murdered her. It seems plausible he's abusive out of a desire to keep the girls close, but it also seems plausible that he also beat his wife and one day went too far.

9% Claiming to be kidnapped might make the sisters safe from their father's wrath, but I'm guessing he executed whomever he blames for letting it happen. But the sister who doesn't know how easily he kills people as retribution wasn't the one to decide to do that, so I guess that's alright.

10% Julian called Scarlett "Crimson" and stated that it's the same difference when corrected. Does that mean he's the love interest?

10% Julian knows about the letters to Legend and speaks Legend's name derisively. Could he be Legend? The story said he becomes the roles he plays completely, so that means if he plays young people he'd stay young, yes? Even if he's not Legend, I'm guessing he's involved due to knowing where the mysterious island is.

11% Julian says Legend never ages. I'm really thinking it's him. The only thing that makes me hesitate is how obvious it seems.

11% Julian is WAY too interested in convincing Scarlett to go to Caraval for him not to be involved.

11% Apparently Scarlet doesn't think her dad killed her mom because he went crazy looking for her when she vanished and because he was never violent toward the girls before their mom went away. I'm not terribly sold on this though.

14% These closed hatbox-shaped shops are reminding me of Wonderland. The "Come Back Yesterday" sign and shop that advertises it will fix your daymares most of all.

19% Julian's leaning-in behavior certainly indicates love interest. He says he's played the game before but hasn't said who he really is even though he already admitted they wouldn't have invited a common sailor. He's made no attempt at explaining how he knew Scarlett would have an extra blank invitation.

27% So I'm guessing Tells wasn't really behind that door and this sort of thing is what the clock guy does with the voices he borrows.

31% I absolutely despise the cutesy decision to present the information of the card on a graphic. IT IS HARD TO READ.

34% Time passes more swiftly at Caraval because Caraval's magic is fueled by time. That is a fascinating idea!

37% The man she will marry is not what she'd call good and his fate is still being debated... This is not necessarily the count.

41% How did Julian get into the hotel in the middle of the day when it locks at dawn? Also, why is he covered in blood? But mostly the first question. Were his injuries sustained in the hotel?

49% When giving up time, always ask WHEN it will be extracted.

51% Interesting... Julian is really upset about Scarlett losing two days and is giving her a day if his life. He is really invested in her winning this thing.

53% And a vision reveals Legend's face. And... It's Julian's!

54% And now I'm questioning Julian being Legend simply because Scarlett is so convinced he is. Perhaps he's Legend's son or brother or some such. (Having a crazy ass father would be something to have in common with Scarlett.) Or the spell that changed him split him in two so the part of him that can feel emotion is Julian while the other half directs Caraval? Or maybe the vision was false?

56% I can't imagine why Legend wouldn't know Julian no matter what Julian's story is. He's admitted being involved in Caraval before. I suppose he could be hidden by magic, but it seems more likely he's lying.

56% Julian could be Rosa's brother and that would explain why he was at her funeral. Trying to keep it together could look lacking in feeling. But why wouldn't Legend recognize him?

59% oh. That was actually a really good explanation as to why Julian knew she'd have tickets. Also, I'm starting to wonder if he's the Count, but that seems like it would end too happily. And I can't think of why he bothered pretending to be a sailor if so.

6w% Her father is here? Did Legend tip him off to cause drama?

65% Her father seemed afraid as she ran away... How dangerous is this count guy? Is he going to hurt her father or does her father just think he'd protect her from Legend? Or maybe he needs money?

66% That was a truly lovely first kiss.

68% Actually, the count seems overly entitled but not all that bad. At least he's not alrights with Scarlett's dad's violence. Although he's not doing much to stop it.

70% Whelp, I'm pretty sure the count will be an ass going forward now that Scarlett's knocked him out and tied him up. He sort of reminds me of Paris from Romeo and Juliet though. Paris really wasn't a bad guy for all that Juliet didn't love him. If she'd never met Romeo, she would have probably been quite happy with him.

73% Hmm... I am really curious as to why Julian didn't jump with Scarlett.

75% Ok, so Julian is working with Legend and the whole sister thing was made up? But is he betraying Legend? Because I believe that the pocket watch really does have something helpful in it. He stole it for a reason, but I don't know what it does... It may actually have the information he said it did.

75% Ah. A spell kept Julian from telling the truth. And now he's been stabbed in the chest. That doesn't sound good for his health. Will her wish be used to revive him? (Assuming she actually gets one and that wasn't a lie...)

84% Well, shit. Tells just fell to her death? Is this book dark enough for deaths to remain real or is there some hope not all of this is real?

84% Wait... Time twisting watch? So this can be undone...

85% Loving the standing up to her bully father scene. It occurs to me that maybe Legend is actually trying to help her and all the stuff about wanting revenge was a charade to lead to this empowerment.

87% The Legend we've seen is just someone playing Legend. Very interesting.

89% Tella isn't dead. And no one used a wish for it.

89% Or apparently Scarlett did wish for it but the effect wasn't immediate?

89% Tella gave her father tickets! And killed herself trusting her sister to revive her so that he'd never try to hunt her down. Daaaaaamn.

90% Julian's not really dead! But there's something in the story that's hard to tell...

91% I actually rather like that Scarlett made the final choice about her count thinking Julian wasn't an option, but, yeah, making her watch him die was harsh.

91% I mean, I assume Scarlett will be at the next game since this is the opening of a series.

93% Julian has Legend's last name. Could he be him after all?

93% He's not. So why the same name? Brother? Or  son?

94% Brother. But under a spell not to tell.

95% OMG. That makeup kiss was amazing.

96% And we end with a promise of finding out what happened to the girls' mother.

That was awesome.

5% It should be fun trying to figure out who this mysterious friend is. And the oracle card is really interesting.

7% The Fates were banished right around when Caraval started? Is there a correlation?

8% Oh. The Count from the last book was really an actor. But there actually IS a fiance count out there somewhere... The magic card implies he's a bad person. I can't help but think keeping this secret is going to bight Julian in the ass though.

11% So did Tella see wings on Dante because she's delirious or because he's been hiding wings? Oh, wait, they're tattoos... I've been watching too much Lucifer.

13% Wait. It's been centuries since the Fates vanished? I thought they were banished much more recently.

16% I'm very curious how everyone got so far ahead of Tella. I'm wondering if she took the wrong gondola and when the noble told her she needs to take a different one he was being truthful rather than snobbish.

18% So mysterious heir... Could be the guy from the gondola. Could be Scarlett's Count. Could be Dante. Could be part of the game since we already know it starts earlier than it claims to and between being alseep and having half the cast on the other boat, Tella doesn't know most of the actors. There's a decent chance the gossiping servants are all thespians... Moy interesante!

21% So Dante isn't the heir. He's at least pretending to be sorry he made up the story that Tella is the heir's fiance. I'm also not sure if he's supposed to be courting her or simply likes her.

24% The heir is the guy from the gondola. His name is Jacks. No idea yet if he's real or an actor.

25% The heir is also the mysterious friend! That's fantastic!

28% Jacks is one of the Fates. Unless he's an actor. But this Caraval is supposedly real, whatever that means... This is intense! Tella is either his true love or is now doomed by his kiss.

35% I liked Dante in the last book, but I'm really loving him now. We are doing a "are they acting?" romance two books in a row, but the girl knows it the whole time this go around so I guess that makes it different.

47% My interpretation of what Nigel said is simply that the first person she sees if she wins will be Legend, not that this will necessarily be their first meeting like she is assuming nor that he'll say he's Legend.

52% Isn't Tella's last memory of her mother seeing her imprisoned on the card?

5?% How did Dante know where to find Tella? Or that she was in danger?

59% Dante just called Julian brother. Julian is Legend's brother. So either there's three of them or one of the love interests is Legend. My money's on Dante. I was thinking this earlier, but don't remember why.

74% If Dante really joined Caraval before it was truly Caraval, that does imply he's either Legend or as old as Legend... I'm really starting to think he may be Legend. Although I suppose it's possible he's just playing him.

77% What is Scarlett up to???

78% Jacks's heart is beating. That's interesting.

80% Crazy theory: Paradise offered her 2nd born child to the temple because she didn't actually give birth to one of her daughters. That daughter is Elantine's missing child.

84% Dante is Legend. Possibly/probably for real even.

88% The Empress's missing child has returned. And is a he. I wonder if we know him... Although I agree with Tella that it sounds hinky.

91% The Empress has died. We're about to see who the new heir is... Is it too insane to wonder if it's Legend?

92% Yep, Legend is the new Emperor!

Nice note. I wonder what prize Tella will demand. I wonder what will happen when her mother wakes up. I wonder if Scarlett's Count is really evil or dull, because I agree with Tella that he's probably one of the two based on his overly polite letters.

3% Hmm... I wonder what the prize is that Legend wants Tella to claim it so badly. Or does he just want to see her? I remain convinced he actually is in love with her, so that could be the driving factor. Perhaps I'm a silly romantic thoigh and there's something more decios to it 

10% I can't tell if Julian's timing is very good or very bad. I don't think I believe he didn't know she was to meet Nicholas today. I think he was trying to wait until she had to pop up again but freaked out at the last minute.

13% This game for her hand in marriage is uncharacteristically silly. She loves Julian and he's said all the right things. And she never asked him why he was gone for so long.

15% Threatening that family's life was shitty, but Poison did Scarlett and Julian a favor making them be honest to each other. And in interested in this crystal key. I wonder what it's for.

19% Well, I guess that's one Fate down, although he'll only stay that way if that dagger is enchanted. The mother was interesting though. Wish she'd lived longer. Maybe she won't stay dead either.

35% I appreciate that the letters are presented as text rather than graphics in this book.

38% Kidnapped by people working for her father is bad... I hope Scarlet can find a keyhole soon.

40% I'm still not entirely sold that the whole immortals can't love thing is entirely accurate.

42% Scarlet has woken up somewhere that doesn't look like her dad's style. New theory: she's the child of Mom's boyfriend, the Fallen Star.

43% I was right.

45% So would PATERNAL love work to make this guy mortal enough to kill?

56% Not a very shocking secret. I'd figured it out a while ago.

70% Yeah, I did wonder what she was saying. Marriage vows. Should have figured.

74% What is it with people clearly loving Donatella and insisting they're incapable of love? Both Jacks and Legend are making hide sacrifices for her while swearing what they feel isn't really love.

86% Wait.  If a Fate tries to kill the Fallen Star they'll die? Isn't the main reason half of these people are helping so that they have the option of dying?

And apparently I didn't take any notes on the ending... I'm not sure what to make of that. I finished this long enough ago that I no longer remember my initial impression. I do remember I stayed up late, so I guess I was too tired to say anything?

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