Caravel is a fantasy YA debut from Californian Stephanie Garber which has been very well received by fans of fairytales. It delivers magic and make-believe with a twist of harshness. It is sweet-breads and pastries with a hint of rotten. It is a playful bite at a lip that suddenly draws blood. The thespian’s mask on the murderers face.
The Quick Plot
Scarlett and Donatella are sisters abandoned by their mother to their ruthless and abusive father on the island of Trisda. Escape is all they ever dream about though the sisters grow into very different approaches to this goal. As a child, Scarlett dreamt of Caravel a magical game and show run by the mythical and tragic figure of Legend. But another escape has offered itself with maturity, marriage, albeit to a man she has never met but he’s a count and he lives elsewhere. Not only that but his count has promised to take Tella with them when he is to come and collect his bride-order. Of course, this is when magical tickets to Caravel suddenly appears in Scarlett’s life and her decisive, impulsive sister starts them on a wild ride. But once Scarlett steps foot inside this magical kingdom she loses Tella and to get her back she must play the game to the finish – and win. Question is, does she really want to save her sister or get back to her wedding, the sure escape she was snatched away from. Her father is still out there, and this time he won’t just punish Tella for Scarlett’s disobedience, he’s going to kill her.
What’s it like?
Imagine, if you will that Victoria Holt decided to write something with an Alice in Wonderland flair it would be much like this tale. But then she had Tim Burton for a beta-reader and took some of his suggestions to heart. On the one hand, it’s a lot about bodices and other items of clothing and boudoirs and old-fashioned outraged proprieties. But on the other, it’s a tale of a woman pushed into questioning all these accepted so-called safeties in her life as she navigates her way through a mysterious magical game, in a world as absurd, menacing and fake as it is wonderful and magic. All the while her loyalty to her sister is tested as well as her willpower to withstand the amorous advances of tall, dark and handsome.
The enigmatic and mysterious (but of course very handsome and prone to taking his clothes off all the time!) stranger that accompanies Scarlett as she searches for her missing sister in this magical menagerie is to a T, the romantic novel’s titillating sex-dude. He’s got just enough actual mystery about his person and behavior thrown in to make me keep reading despite the corniness.
Yay or nay?
Would I recommend picking this book up? I’m calling it a hand waggle. Whatever else Stephanie Garber delivers with her story, her setting is truly worth experiencing and if you have to wince at the occasional ladylike gasp then that’s not too steep a price. Those gasps and notions do fit the setting, I personally just cringe at them. I think perhaps one of the most charming aspects of this story is how it starts; with the letters of a sad child sent to a dream of refound joy and magic. That hit me right in the feels, no doubt about it.
Since this is a Young Adult novel, which I take to mean bible belt housewives rather than depictive of the preferences of any teens I recall growing up with, expectations of mature follow-through will have to be pretty low. Call it, not really steamy enough to be truly titillating, not really absurd and creepy enough to deserve a Burtonesque stamp. Recall if you will the old versions of Pinnochio where he goes to the Tivoli with the bad boys. Or, as I mentioned above, parts of Alice’s travels. How brightly colored and poisonous the feeling of the place was and how enigmatic or outright deceptive the inhabitants were. That’s how I recall it in any case and Caravel evoked the same feelings in me as I read. It’s a fairytale for your inner little pink princess if you are in possession of one of those.
All in all I’ve enjoyed it. Let’s call it 3 ripped bodices out of 5.
You can follow Stephanie Garber here for more news about her upcoming books in the Caravel series: