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Three YA Fantasy Books for Carnival & Mardi Gras

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Mardi Gras, Carnival, Shrovetide… whatever you call it, I love the weeks-long celebration between Three Kings Day and Fat Tuesday. In fact, one of my bucket-list items is to experience all the different flavors of Carnival from around the world. I mean, the decadence, the partying, the dancing and floats and sparkly costumes… what’s not to love?

Alas, this year’s Carnival season has now come to an end. But books are forever! If you’re not quite ready to move on from the festive party mindset, or if you missed it this year, or if you just want to read pretty words, here are three YA(ish) books that evoke the dreamy decadence of Mardi Gras.

ECSTASIA
FRANCESCA LIA BLOCK

I love love love Francesca Lia Block’s lyrical style of writing and how everything she writes feels like a dream or a fairy tale or a myth. Ecstasia is all of the above — part surreal fairy tale, part modern Greek myth, all told in her trademark poetic prose that makes even the gritty underworld ever-present in her work feel haunting and beautiful.

Siblings Calliope and Rafe, along with Dionisio and Paul, are Ecstasia—the most popular band in Elysia, a city of jewels and feathers, of magic and music, where the only crime is growing old. Then Calliope’s visions take her to Under, where the Old Ones go to die, and where her parents had vanished long ago. Rafe joins her there, in search of the Doctor, who can bring back the dead to ease their loved ones’ broken hearts. And that is when rapture turns to nightmare.

❝ Greek myth collides with “sex and drugs and rock'n'roll” in this first adult novel by controversial (and award-winning) YA author Block (Weetzie Bat , HarperCollins, 1989). The author’s heady style lends a poetic quality to this graceful story of love in an all-too-material world. ❞ — From Library Journal


BURN BRIGHT
MARIANNE DE PIERRES

This one’s for you if you were ever a raver, or goth, or goth-adjacent, or liked wearing a lot of black lace, or just like the idea of wearing a lot of black lace, and a tropical island where it’s always night and there’s always a party and ancient stone chapels carved from mountainous caves and tree-top trams to transport you… this world is so dark and intoxicating, I want it to be made into a movie just so I can see it brought to life.

Book One of Night Creatures

Retra is a Seal from the city of Grave — sealed minds, sealed community. When her brother Joel runs away to Ixion, the island of ever-night, ever-youth and never-sleep, she is determined to find him.

Retra endures the pain of her obedience strip to escape Grave and stow away on the Ixion barge. But the island is beyond anything she can imagine and she finds herself drawn deep into a intoxicating and dangerous world.

What are the creatures calling to Retra from the shadows? Where is Joel? And why are the young people she meets, vanishing?

Ixion may appear to be a place of bliss, but its secrets are deadly. Will the friends she makes, and the forging of an eternal bond with a Riper, be enough to save her from the darkness?


CARAVAL
STEPHANIE GARBER

Admittedly, I’ve only just begun reading this one. But, this is the book that gave me the idea for a Carnival-inspired post because the imagery is so magical and evocative — my favorite kind! And with reviews hailing this as The Hunger Games meets The Night Circus, how can you resist?

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 …

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved 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 far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval … beware of getting swept too far away.

“The Hunger Games meets The Night Circus. Grade: A-.” —EW
“Spellbinding.” —US Weekly
“Magnificent.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Destined to capture imaginations.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Ideal for fans of The Night Circus, Stardust, and The Hunger Games.” —SLJ

Of all the Carnival and Mardi Gras celebrations held all over the world, which one would you choose?