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.