Stephanie Garber’s Caraval is a dazzling fantasy romance that will leave you breathless, but at its heart it’s about sisters. What we do for family. What we do to protect those whom we’ve loved and fought with and adored since birth. What that responsibility for another living soul can do to you and for you.
Over the course of our lives together, my sister and I have switched bedrooms more times than I count, planned and participated in numerous talent shows in which we were the only talent (and mine was debatable), called one another names (we both a keen psychological instinct for hitting the weak spots), held and comforted the other, and hit one another with remotes (okay, that was just me. But she must have deserved it and afterwards she called me a “stupid ass” so we’re even).
The point is: sisters are unlike anything on this earth. On one hand, she is a potential threat to your current happiness with her long memory and access to old Glamour Shot photos, but on the other, she is a living record of how you got to now, and your life-long best friend made flesh. Some of your quirks might really annoy the other (hello!, my sister is chronically late and I’m chronically sensitive) but you. don’t. ever. mess. with. my. sister.
Garber captures this sisterly dynamic in Caraval with the Dragna sisters, both of whom are victims of their father’s abuse and long for escape. Scarlett has been attempting to protect her little sister Tella from their abusive father, the Governor of Trisda, since their mother disappeared. She believes that she’s finally found a permanent way to do it by marrying the Count, a man she’s never met before but who writes kind letters. Her sister sees their escape through Caraval, a magical competition orchestrated by a wizard named Legend. This year, the prize of Caraval is a wish.
Scarlett’s always been drawn to the promise of Caraval’s magic but she resists her sister’s pleas to go there, until the matter is taken out of her hands and then Tella is kidnapped. As a result, Scarlett must navigate through the brilliant, dangerously unpredictable world of Caraval, searching for her beloved sister. As Scarlett attempts to solve the clues, this is what she knows to be true: she must rescue her sister Tella from kidnapping, she must leave Caraval in time to marry the Count, and she must resist Julian, her unreliable guide in Caraval, who seems to have some magic of his own. All the while, Scarlett must remember that she must not “let your eyes or feelings trick you,” and that there are consequences to losing and winning.
Caraval is a book to enjoy in the moment, but it’s also a book to chew over. I find myself even now remembering certain parts of the book with the knowledge that I gained at the end, trying to put it all together and see the story from different points of view. And Scarlett is a character to admire: she pursues her sister through the terror and beauty of Caraval with ingenuity and aplomb.
If you’re looking for an inventive tour de force, an explosion of color and sound, look no further. Admit your ticket to Caraval at the door and unlike Scarlett, don’t worry about allowing yourself to be “swept away.”
Psssst! If you like Caraval, try: the sequels to the trilogy, including Legendary, book 2. Also, try The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and the movie Sing (hey, the stakes aren’t as big, but we’re still talking about competition here and what people want versus what they think they should do.) Maybe Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus—I read this years ago and think it’s time for a re-read.
The Need To Know: An inventive, captivating tale perfect for all YA and fantasy-lovers.
The Bone Witch is a feast of magic, grotesquerie, and heart.
From the first two sentences: “The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer”—to the last, I was engrossed in the story of the bone witch, Tea. This is a young woman who is intelligent and brave and by turns secretive and cunning, who is not afraid to risk anything—even alienating those she loves—if only she might save their lives.
The novel opens when a Bard approaches Tea, the bone witch, who has been exiled to a beach littered with animal’s skeletons. The Bard asks to hear her story and Tea acquiesces. The rest of the book intersperses the Bard’s observations and conversations with Tea with Tea’s account of the last three-ish years of her life.
Tea’s story begins when she was 14, when she brought her dead brother, Fox, back to life. A bone witch named Mykaela comes to retrieve Tea and tells her that she will be taken away to receive bone witch training. Where Tea is from, bone witches, witches who are capable of bringing beings back from the dead and sending them back, are highly feared. Though she is not eager to leave her family behind, something within Tea luxuriates in the feeling of the magic within her.
Once Tea reaches Ankyo, the seat of her training, she must face enemies within her own community and also those without. And her journey is more complicated than others’ because she is extraordinarily powerful and she senses the injustices of the bone witch’s life more than most.
This novel is action-packed, with Tea and others battling grotesque creatures which rise from the ground, taking combat and dancing lessons, and learning to create runes made of blood. But The Bone Witch doesn’t sacrifice thoughtful characterization for the sake of plot. The characters are nuanced and well-developed, and Chupeco deploys her stellar vocabulary to create a world that is vivid and atmospheric.
This was a fantastic YA fantasy read that kept me riveted to the page, lost in a world that Chupeco created.
The exciting news doesn't end: there will be a sequel!
I received a copy of this book free from Netgalley but all opinions included here are my own.
Brittany Cavallaro’s A Study in Charlotte is an adventurous, suspenseful YA re-telling of Sherlock Holmes that is also frequently insightful and heart-warming.
In this re-telling, the protagonists are two teens who are the descendants of Holmes and Watson. Charlotte Holmes is a well-known detective whose parents send her to a boarding school in the United States as a punishment. She’s also addicted to oxy. Jamie Watson attends the same boarding school for different reasons: presumably a rugby scholarship. He has problems with anger management and romanticizing Holmes and their potential relationship.
These two come together when one and/or both are suspected of murdering their common enemy, an awful student named Lee Dobson. They race to solve the mystery so that their names will be cleared, and so that more students won’t be harmed or killed by the assailant.
The evolution of the relationship between Watson and Holmes is sweet and lovely. As I made clear earlier, both protagonists have issues which threaten the development of their relationship, not to mention the fact that they are teenagers (brilliant teenagers, but still) who are isolated at a boarding school. But I enjoyed reading about how they forged and strengthened their relationship throughout the book; their efforts to trust each other are particularly moving given that at various times they have so few people they can trust.
I didn't grow up as a super-fan of Sherlock Holmes, so perhaps I'm more open to re-tellings than a super-fan would be.
I often think about trying to find more YA fiction, and I just stumbled across this one in my Amazon recommendations. A Study in Charlotte is highly recommended for anyone who wants to read a YA, mystery-thriller, with a will-they-or-won’t-they element. And the Holmes/Watson references are just fun--I would think whether you are a devotee of the original, or not.
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.