Stephanie Garber Makes a Magical Debut with ‘Caraval’

Stephanie Garber Makes a Magical Debut with Caraval

Debut author Stephanie Garber released her fantasy novel Caraval on Jan. 31, triggering predictions that the work would instantly launch her into fame. A month later, fans have been proven right, with Caraval currently at #2 on The New York Times’ Best Sellers list under the Young Adult hardcover category.

Scarlet and Tella Dragma are the daughters of the aristocratic tyrant Governor Dragma, who abuses both the citizens of his island and his family. The sisters are able to escape when Legend, the mysterious orchestrator of the magical fair Caraval, extends invitations to them for the event. However, when they arrive, Tella is kidnapped as the object of Caraval’s treasure hunt. The novel constantly repeats the motto, “Remember, it’s only a game,” but readers quickly question the statement as they find out more and more. Despite entering the story knowing hardly anything, we quickly discover peculiarities with the fair that leave us guessing as Garber skillfully drops hints and plot twists, and ends in a spectacular reveal.

Caraval’s success with fans is largely due to Garber’s magical writing style. The language is whimsical and perfect for describing the enchanting facade of the fair, yet doesn’t feel overly flowery. Additionally, Garber is able to mix an Alice in Wonderland-style atmosphere with the typical thrilling action of a YA novel, leaving readers swooning and on the edge of their seats at the same time.

The plot idea immediately captured my attention, but in execution, it was somewhat underdeveloped. The concept of the Caraval fair itself was intriguing, but in developing the setting of the game, Garber neglected to give any detail to Scarlet’s old home, the Conquered Isles, and how the fair related to the world as a whole. Additionally, the characters were simple, with Scarlet’s love interest Julian as the stereotypical pretty bad boy, Tella appearing only at the beginning and the end, and Governor Dragma as a purely evil antagonist, with no real motivations. Scarlet herself was also somewhat one-dimensional, playing the naive girl thrown into a dangerous world. Caraval makes up for these flaws with wonderful world-building and sense of unpredictable mystery, but still does not conceal the absence left by the lack of well-developed characters.

Caraval definitely left some opportunities unexplored, but overall was still a novel worthy of its rising popularity. With a cliffhanger ending, Garber’s debut novel will leave readers expecting another best-seller penned soon, as well as eagerly awaiting the release of its movie adaptation.