by Stephanie Garber
Hodder & Stoughton
“Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest thing you’ll ever find to magic in this world.” You can practically smell the movie adaptation of Stephanie Garber’s high-concept debut novel. Our heroine, Scarlett, is a lonely, isolated but imaginative young woman. Confined to the remote island of Trisda, she is on the brink of marriage, arranged by her ghastly father, to a man who is hardly any better. Scarlett’s nicely sharp sister, Donatella, disparagingly refers to him as “the count”, because of the vampirish way he sucks the life out of Scarlett. Hope is offered by Legend, who runs Caraval, a near-mythical event that is one part circus, one part avant-garde theatre and one part music festival. Although “she knew better than to believe its magic would change her life”, that is precisely what Caraval does. A cross between The Hunger Games and Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus, it demands that Scarlett save her sister in a series of reality-defying trials. Romance is teased, with a hunk-lunk called Julian and some nicely souped-up writing. But the bond between Scarlett and ’Tella steals Garber’s impressive first show.