These days, we could all use a little distraction. As it turns out, necessity is the mother of self-care invention, and Stephanie Garber has arrived to save the day with her shimmering and intoxicating debut novel, Caraval.
As the start of a duology that will earn comparisons to The Night Circus for all the right reasons, Caraval introduces a dazzling, invitation-only circus and its possibly sinister mastermind, Legend. Scarlett Dragna has always longed for an invite to Caraval, writing Legend throughout the years as she looks for an escape from her abusive father. Now, on the eve of an arranged marriage, Scarlett believes her chance at taking in the profound spectacle of the circus has gone.
Then a letter arrives, inviting Scarlett and her sister, Donatella, to experience the immersive, turbulent wonder of Caraval. Once there, if they’re not careful, they may lose far more than they win.
The only problem with Caraval the novel is that it’s so engrossing you might just finish it in one sitting. For that reason, here are a few more books that’ll hit that lush, binge-worthy fantasy sweet spot. (Bonus: Some of them are series starters!)
Wintersong, by S. Jae-Jones
Wintersong takes all the seductive intrigue of Caraval and mixes it with a dose of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. If that doesn’t have you head over heels, check your pulse and then consider the pure magic of a coming-of-age fairy tale. A young woman in 19th-century Bavaria, Liesl has always been enamored with tales of the Goblin King, equal parts cruel and beautiful. On the brink of adulthood, Liesl fears she may soon lose the dreams of her youth, including her musical ambitions—but all of that changes when the Goblin King abducts her younger sister. As in all good fairy tales, in order to save her sister, Liesl may end up losing part of herself in the king’s enchanting, dizzying, darkly beautiful underground.
Labyrinth Lost, by Zoraida Córdova
Throughout much of Caraval you get the sensation of falling. There’s an element of portal fiction, even though, for the most part, the players of the game stay firmly in this plane of reality. That feeling is why the latent (if un-asked for) magic of Labyrinth Lost‘s reluctant heroine makes it a perfect post-binge read. Scarlett spends most of her life looking for a little magic; Alex, a powerful bruja, spends most of hers wishing she could get escape it. In fact, it’s trying to get rid of her powers that accidentally banishes her family to the in-between world of Los Lagos, a strange, dark, and wonder-filled realm. With a diverse cast of characters (of culture, of gender, of sexual orientation), Labyrinth Lost crackles with warmth and plunges you into an exciting and lush fantasy realm.
Hardcover $16.19 | $17.99
The Girl From Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig
With time travel at the heart of its premise, The Girl From Everywhere has most often drawn (favorable) comparisons to Outlander. But as a book, it’s far more committed to its fantastical heart than Diana Gabaldon’s series, which is occupied with its love story, and rightfully so. In Heilig’s debut, the first in a duology, 16-year-old Nix has spent her life aboard her father’s ship. Any mapped terrain, whether fictional or real and existing at any point in time, they can sail to. But there’s only one time and place Nix’s father is interested in, and if he ever finds it, there’s a very real possibility it will be the end of the line for his daughter. This book will take you into uncharted waters, both alluring and unknowable. (And sequel The Ship Beyond Time is out now!)
Revenge and the Wild, by Michelle Modesto
It may seem odd to rec a Western for fans of dazzling fantasy, but this steampunk thrill ride has as much magic as Rogue City’s saloon has whiskey. Furthermore, it has Westie, the notoriously foul-mouthed and hard-headed young woman whose mechanical arm is remarkably less impressive than her mind—and her memory. Westie is haunted by the cannibal attack that claimed her arm and her family. When a wealthy family moves to Rogue City, a lawless, darkly magic outpost, Westie knows in her gut they were involved in the attack. Along with her eccentric adoptive father and his stalwart assistant, Westie sets out to prove the truth, and no monster, human or otherwise, will stand in her way.
Paperback $9.89 | $10.99
The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh
As much as Caraval is about its central game, the plot hinges just as much on the strength of Scarlett, a girl caught between a rock and hard place. The same can be said of Shahrzad, the heroine of Ahdieh’s retelling of A Thousand and One Nights. Each night, the young caliph of Khorasan takes a new bride. Each morning, the sun rises on a dead wife. Until that bride is Shahrzad, who survives night after night, weaving stories for the caliph that enchant and intrigue. Along the way, the murderer she thought her husband to be evolves before her eyes. There are secrets there, secrets Shazi must uncover. Quickly, the mystery morphs into soaring fantasy, and then, before Shazi realizes it, into romance.
The Glittering Court, by Richelle Mead
The start of Mead’s Glittering Court series is expansive, in every sense of the word. The story spans continents and societies, dazzling along the way with love stories, strong female friendships, and plenty of Elizabethan balls. It delights the senses, almost as much as the young Countess of Rothford sparkles as a main character. She, like Scarlett, is anxious about the prospects of an arranged marriage, and instead of meekly accepting her fate, she concocts a scheme and strikes out to make her own life in the new world. Masquerading as a servant, Adelaide, she embarks on a journey to the Glittering Court, a finishing school that turns lower-class girls into polished brides for new-world gentry. The frontier of Adoria provides a jarring juxtaposition with the gilded glitz of Adelaide’s past, and it adds to the charming, frenzied pace at which the novel moves.