I recently finished Caraval by Stephanie Garber, and since finishing I keep describing it by relating to other books – in particular, The Night Circus and The Crown’s Game, the first of which I’ve reviewed previously. The clear correlation between all of them is magic, but with the added element of spectacle and ties to the circus. Clearly something works with the format, and instead of doing a standard review for Caraval I’d rather look at all three books and see what it is about their magic and setting that makes them great reads.
So let’s look at a brief overview of each book, starting off with one of my all-time favourites The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This enchanting book is based on a circus which arrives with no warning, opening at sunset and closing at dawn. The circus is no ordinary one however, filled with secret magic and mystery. In case any of you haven’t read it and don’t want too many spoilers, I’ll be brief in saying that there is another huge plot line in the book which follows two people, both with their own kind of ‘magic’, who must compete against one another. There’s love, there’s adventure, there’s beautiful descriptions and imagery, and of course a ton of magic. You read this book for the ‘aesthetic’ I think. You read it for those incredible descriptions of the various spectacles at the circus, for the beautiful imagination the author has and the world she weaves. This book definitely stands out as an all time favourite just because of it – and after all, circus’ are meant to enrapture you.
The next book that I read out of the three was The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, which had me completely hooked for days on end. The heart of this story follows that of Vika and Nikolai, both somehow born with magic that should only be granted to one. The Russian tsar needs an enchanter at his side, and so the two compete for the position in what is known as ‘The Crown’s Game’, a magic duel to the death that spans across several days where each enchanter must create some kind of illusion or spectacle, putting on a show for their large audience. There’s incredible imagination, brilliant characters that make you want to jump straight into the pages with them, and once again brilliant magic. This one left me with a serious book hangover that I’m still feeling today.
And finally, we have Caraval by Stephanie Garber which I finished in just a few days, reading late into the night to finish it. We meet two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who are desperate to escape out from under their father’s thumb and go to the mysterious Caraval, a legendary game where the audience participates in the show. Tella manages to get Scarlett to the grand location of the game, but is soon taken by the master organiser Legend – if Scarlett wants her sister back, she has to find her in order to win the game. Fast plot, a dark element, a love interest and plenty of twists to finish it all off, and once again, you got it, magic.
So at the centre of all of these books, there is that element of competition. With NC and CG, two individuals are competing against each other with magical duels, whereas Caraval is about a competition with many participants. Something about this plot line adds a layer of excitement and anticipation, but also gives the novels a structure that is easy enough to follow. Yet in my reading experience of all of them, the pacing was very very different. NC was like a slow-burning candle, with the same intensity imagination and awe throughout, but one that you take your time with to let it all soak in. CG and Caraval however were like quick bursts of flame, ones that I had to finish as soon as possible before the fire went out. I think out of all of them, I enjoyed CG the most in terms of the actual reading of it, finishing it in a few days and absolutely loving it. For long term however, NC is one that I always think back to just because of it’s amazing descriptions and I always use it as an example of how to create a beautiful book which although has a great plot, it has a slow pace which works for it. Comparing CG and Caraval, both of which are different to NC as they are part of a series, I feel far more inclined to read the sequel of CG because I still think about that ending that had me screaming along with my adoration of the characters.
Which brings me to my next point: characters. It seems each book sacrifices something out of pacing, characters, and world. NC of course has the best world out of all of them but slow pacing, CG has the best characters with a less imaginative world, and Caraval doesn’t have the best character development. CG for sure has the best balance between the three, as it is a fantasy novel based on Russia and the Ottoman empire, imagining if magic was present in the time. Caraval, although having brilliant pacing and a great setting, didn’t have the characters to back it up. It starts off great – we have two sisters, a ruthless father, and a charming sailor. Yet there isn’t much development, and starts off as slightly stereotypical; one sister is the responsible ‘boring’ one who just wants to save her sister, whereas the other is more adventurous, flirtatious and reckless. A pretty classic format that the author doesn’t really try to deviate from until the very end, so hopefully that means the sequel will have some serious character development. I’ll admit, the ending puts a new spin to what has happened throughout the book which adds to the overall effect, but I wish there had been something more sooner.
I gave all books 4 stars and above, as let’s face it: the competitive magic format just works. I loved all three and each of them has shown me different ways a great book can be – and all three have stunning covers. NC with it’s great colour way and character detail, CG with its dramatic crown, and Caraval with it’s secretive design underneath the dust jacket, of which there are four different designs that you can get. I’d recommend them all to anyone who is a fan or who wants to try a new fantasy, depending on what you love. For fast pace, magical fun with plenty of twists, go with Caraval. For a slower and more imaginative read, with stunning descriptions and characters that will take your heart, go with Night Circus. And finally, for a plot that will make you scream at the ending and and characters that make you lose your mind, go with The Crown’s Game.