Category Archives: puzzles

Review of PAPERBACK Caraval – Book 1 of the Caraval series by Stephanie Garber #Brainfluffbookreview #Caravalbookreview

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I’ll admit it – it was the cover of this one that caught my eye – and the premise that a complicated, magical game was at the heart of the story…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over. But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives…

And that’s as much of the very chatty blurb that I’m prepared to include as far too many of the major plotpoints are revealed, so my first piece of advice is to avoid reading the back matter. As for the story – Garber quickly snagged my attention by providing a sympathetic heroine who is desperate to escape her cruel father. She has written every year for seven years before her request to join the game is approved – and she has tickets for her and her sister. However, as she is soon to be married and is desperate to believe the kind, courteous letters that she has been exchanging with her prospective husband means he is caring and at the very least – kinder than her bullying, violent father who has been terrorising her and her sister ever since their mother disappeared.

Caraval – remember it’s only a game – all too quickly turns into a desperate quest, when her sister almost immediately disappears and Scarlett is led to believe that if she doesn’t find her before Caraval ends, then she will die… Scarlett is plunged into a beautiful, varied world where she cannot trust what anyone says or does and her decisions have unexpected and frightening consequences. Accompanying her for at least part of the way, is a young sailor who effected their escape from their family home. Unexpectedly, he joins her and is responsible for saving her life – apparently… But can she really trust him and his advice? Or is he one of the famous Master Legend’s highly trained actors?

This one is a real page-turner as Scarlett struggles to work out how to survive and track down what has happened to her beautiful, wilful sister – and it is the love between the two sisters that is the emotional engine that powers this story, despite the love story also threading through it. I really enjoyed it and found the twisting, often surreal situations that Scarlett was confronted with kept the pages turning late into the night.

Of course, it’s all very well constructing a tension-filled mystery with high stakes – but at the end, the denouement must deliver. I was pleased to find it did. Some of my guesses about what was going on were correct – however, most of them weren’t and I loved the way Garber wrapped this one up. Recommended for those who like their thrillers with a strong paranormal twist, delivered by a sympathetic protagonist.
8/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE arc The Hidden Face – Book 1 of The Fifth Unmasking series by S.C. Flynn

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This puzzle-driven epic fantasy was offered to me by the author as I had read and reviewed his debut novel Children of the Different. Would this one impress me as much?

A face without a face – an unmasking that leaves the mask. Once every few hundred years the sun god, the Akhen, takes on human form and descends to earth. Each Unmasking of the Face of the Akhen ends one era and begins another; the last one created the Faustian Empire. Where and when will the Face next appear, and who will he – or she – be?

Dayraven, son of a great hero, returns to Faustia after years as a hostage of their rivals, the Magians. Those years have changed him, but Faustia has changed as well; the emperor Calvo now seems eccentric and is controlled by one of Dayraven’s old enemies. Following the brutal murder of his old teacher, Dayraven is drawn, together with a female warrior named Sunniva, into the search for an ancient secret that would change the fate of empires.

I liked both protagonists, Dayraven in particular. In common with a lot of high-born children, he has been sent to a neighbouring kingdom as surety for good behaviour and brought up in their court. But while he expected to return home within a handful of years, he has to wait a lot longer before returning home to discover all is changed – and not in a good way. Flynn’s unfussy writing style quickly drew me into the story as Dayraven finds out just who his enemies are, while he hurries to meet up with his former tutor and mentor.

And from then, the story nocks up another notch and we are whisked along with Dayraven, who begins to appreciate there is a lot more at stake than Emperor Calvo’s current mental confusion. Once he encounters Sunniva and they form a team, they begin to try to unpick the trail of clues left behind by the two guardians of these vital secrets. Together, they manage to uncover part of the mystery – but a number of formidable antagonists are in close pursuit.

I have seen this book rated as YA – do be aware that while the puzzle-solving aspect may appeal to teens, this one isn’t suitable for a younger age-group. I would not be happy to discover my thirteen-year-old granddaughter reading it as there is a fair amount of sexual content, including a rather explicit sex scene.

Other than that concern, I enjoyed this one. I particularly appreciated the depiction of the antagonists as we discover their motives and why they are trying to find out where the Fifth Unmasking will take place. This works well in powering the story forward as the reader is left in no doubt as to what will happen should the secrets fall into the wrong hands.

The storyline comes to a climactic denouement with plenty of action and drama that had the pages turning and bringing this particular slice of the adventure to a satisfactory close – though there are several major plotpoints left dangling as the story evidently will be continued in the next book. Recommended for epic fantasy fans with a taste for arcane mysteries embedded within the worldbuilding.
8/10