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The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
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The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

I’ll Read Anything: The ‘Caraval’ Trilogy

Stephanie Garber’s whimsical Caraval trilogy is filled with magical illusions, romance and fate.
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Emery Little
I’ll Read Anything delivers honest reviews on reads from your trusty Life staffers (Hustler Multimedia/Emery Little)

“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 you’ll ever find to magic in this world.” – “Caraval” by Stephanie Garber

In need of an enthralling beach read or a distraction from midterms? Then listen up. The “Caraval” fantasy trilogy follows the adventures of sisters Scarlett and Donatella Dragna as they’re given the opportunity to change their fates through a game called Caraval. According to their grandmother, Caraval is a seasonal game hosted by a mysterious magician known as Legend. Each Caraval, players are transported to a magical world filled with illusions and wonder. Those who successfully solve each of the five nights’ clues receive a wish from Legend himself. However, the games come at a price: those who can no longer tell the difference between reality and fiction begin to lose themselves.

The "Caraval" trilogy
The “Caraval” trilogy, as photographed on March 16, 2022. (Hustler Staff/Ashley Monteiro) (Ashley Monteiro)

“Caraval”

In the first book and namesake of the series, “Caraval,” we learn of the sisters’ tragic backstory. Their mother, Paloma, abandoned them at a young age, causing their father to become abusive. As a result, Scarlett focuses on protecting her younger and more free-spirited sister Donatella. She gives up her childhood dreams of going to Caraval, including the letters she’d often write to Legend, to protect herself and her sister. With a wealthy count courting her, a potential marriage could be the way out of her lonely home of Trisda. Fate, however, seems to have other plans for Scarlett, when she receives an invitation to go to Caraval from Legend himself.

Scarlett is reluctant to attend, but Donatella and Julian, a sailor on the island, manage to whisk her away to Caraval without her father noticing. Scared, Scarlett is desperate to return home, but she is forced to play when it’s revealed that her sister is being held captive for the purposes of this season’s Caraval. Scarlett must take risks, make sacrifices and put her trust in Julian to find Donatella and win Caraval.

This book’s vivid descriptions of each scene and character brought the world of Caraval to life before my eyes. It was as if I was among the players, observing the various stalls, sparkling lights, elaborate gowns and twisting streets. The story delivers when it comes to the sheer magnitude of Legend’s magic.

I quickly became attached to Scarlett, her all-too-real anxieties and fears making her a relatable protagonist. Her internal conflicts over Julian and her future were believable; the tension kept me on the edge of my seat as the book progressed. The final game truly catches you off guard, but that’s all part of the thrill.

 

“Legendary”

“Caraval” ends on a high note and is followed by “Legendary,” which follows the sisters’ journey to the capital from Donatella’s perspective. A special season of Caraval is being hosted in honor of the empress’ birthday and Donatella seizes the opportunity to satisfy a secret informant promising information about her mother’s disappearance. However, there’s a small fee: Legend’s true identity. There’s also the problem of Dante, one of Legend’s performers, and Jacks, heir to the throne, both vying for Donatella’s heart as she tries to complete her task. To win the games Donatella must follow her heart – and the clues – to unravel the mystery behind her mother’s story. 

Meanwhile the Fates, a powerful group of immortals who once ruled the world, make their first appearance. After being imprisoned by a witch, the fates have returned with a vengeance that puts Legend and all of Caraval in danger. Their presence also sheds light on Dante, Jacks, and Paloma changing everything Donatella and Scarlett thought they knew.

This book was definitely my favorite of the trilogy. I was caught up in the mystery surrounding Legend’s identity and I was ecstatic when he turned out to be one of the characters I was rooting for the most. I also thought the introduction of the Fates was a great way to raise the stakes. The characters have to leave their fantasies behind to face reality. Donatella’s perspective is what truly shaped the experience; of the two sisters she’s the one who wears her heart on her sleeve, so her reactions drove a lot of tension and emotion this part of the story needed. 

 

“Finale”

“Finale” is the thrilling—and aptly-named—conclusion of Scarlett and Donatella’s journey. By this point, the sisters have discovered Legend’s true identity, the Fates have unleashed havoc across the empire and Legend has taken over the throne to restore order. The Fallen Star, the leader of the Fates, attempts to overthrow Legend, forcing him to reconsider what he values most in life. Scarlett’s relationship with Julian is put to the test after a shocking revelation about her mother’s ties to the Fates. Meanwhile, Donatella chooses her true love, making important sacrifices that affect not only her future but that of the empire. The ending is a bittersweet but satisfying end to this magical adventure.

My favorite part of Finale was getting to see more of Legend’s vulnerability. He was previously built up as this powerful mysterious figure, but now we know his reasons for being guarded. We finally see him leave his comfort zone to put his life on the line to protect those who’ve become important to him, an important step in his character development. This book is what truly humanizes him.

Although “Finale” kept me engaged for the most part, I was disappointed with how several major plot points were handled. Some revelations fell flat because, rather than showing us events that help us piece together the story, the characters outright tell us what’s going on. In some cases this writing is effective, but in others it ruins the buildup of mysteries surrounding the characters—especially the Fallen Star. This wasn’t something I noticed very much in the first two books, but it became obvious in “Finale” and made parts of the series’ conclusion feel rushed.

I also would have liked to see a better balance between Scarlett and Donatella’s perspectives since this is the only book that alternates between them. Both sisters played major parts in fighting the Fates, but I felt that Donatella’s romance plotline was prioritized over Scarlett’s interactions with the Fallen Star. With a better balance, I think the Fallen Star would’ve been a more fleshed out villain.

 

My Final Thoughts

Despite several weak spots I noticed towards the end, I still enjoyed what the “Caraval” trilogy had to offer. The world was built wonderfully and each of the characters had distinct personalities that felt real. The twists often caught me off guard and I had fun solving all of the games’ riddles. For anyone interested in a good fantasy adventure that’s engaging, magical and romantic, do yourself a favor and check out this series.

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About the Contributor
Emery Little, Former Social Media Director
Emery Little (‘22) is from Birmingham, AL. She majored in communication of science and technology and Spanish. In her free time, she loves to design graphics, follow tech news and run her photography business. She can be reached at [email protected].
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