REVIEW: Legendary – Stephanie Garber

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Author: Stephanie Garber (website / twitter)

UK Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Genre: Young Adult, fantasy, romance

See Also: Caraval

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the competition once more. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice, but now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything – maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

The games have only just begun.

When I read Caraval, one of my main critiques was that I was disappointed that we didn’t spend more time in the world of the game, seeing the magic inherent in it and getting to explore its otherworldliness. That was part of the reason I didn’t hurry to pick up Legendary when it came  out – while I had enjoyed Caraval, I was worried that the sequel wouldn’t deliver what I was looking for in terms of broadening the worldbuilding and giving me more depth the the mythology. I was also slightly put off when I saw that Legendary followed Tella, instead of continuing with Scarlett from the first book. I struggle with character shifts between books as I’ve spent one book getting invested in a character only to see someone else in the next, and, if I’m honest, I hadn’t loved Tella from Scarlett’s perspective so I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of spending a whole book in her head.

I needn’t have worried. Because in Caraval we only see Tella from her sisters perspective, she came across as impulsive, overly romantic, and boy-obsessed. Yes, she had a plan for rescuing both herself and her sister from their life with their father, but it seemed to be poorly thought-through, reckless, and focused on the aesthetic and drama of it all. While these characters can be fun, the very little of Tella we saw, combined with Scarlett’s experience of her, suggested that there was nothing more to her. This meant it was a delightful surprise to discover that far from being obsessed with romance and drama, Tella is in fact a kind of chaotic nihilist, and I loved it.

This ties into the other concern I had with the book prior to reading – rather than expanding the world of Caraval, Garber instead expands the whole world. We learn that magic isn’t just restricted to the game, the mythology behind Legend’s powers, and the religion and history of the world which then all tie into the newest iteration of the game. The premise is around the Fates – cruel and powerful gods who had ruled the world centuries ago, using their magic to torture people and control humans. They were trapped inside a deck of cards by a witch and their powers stripped away. These cards, not unlike a tarot deck, became known as Decks of Destiny, and could be used to tell truths and fortunes. As a child, Tella finds an unusual deck, one like no other, and accidentally reads her own future. The first card predicts a great loss, and shortly afterwards her mother disappears. This proves to her that the reading was true, so when the second card predicted a life of unrequited love and romantic tragedy, she decided that she was going to avoid romance altogether and just focus on enjoying herself since she was doomed to be ‘alone’. It’s very much the “nothing matters, so why not?” approach to nihilism and I really enjoyed it.

With no prospect of lasting emotional ties to anyone, all of Tella’s relationships are assessed and measured in a transactional manner – she wonders what people want from her, what she can gain from them, and spends her time predicting them based on that knowledge. Her entire existence is one long game, which she is quite good at playing. The only exception to this is Scarlett, her sole emotional tie and for whom she would do quite literally anything. When the third card she drew in her fortune shows her visions of a future with Scarlett miserable, Tella moves mountains to avoid that fate. Her secondary goal after that is to find out what happened to their mother all those years ago, and this becomes linked to the new game of Caraval. There’s a difference, however, between this Caraval and the last. While Scarlett’s Caraval was only a game, Tella’s is real. This leads to a mirroring between the two stories, where Scarlett struggled to discern fact from fiction in book one, and Tella will not believe that what she is seeing is real and the stakes are incredibly high in book two. This also ties in with her 

Sometimes second books can feel like the ploddy one in the series – they’re the books which have to push the plot forward towards a conclusion which doesn’t happen in their pages. They often struggle with a satisfying resolution because the final act has yet to come, and struggle to bring anything new to the table because the novelty came in book one. This isn’t true of Legendary. The format of the game allows a decent resolution in an ending, but with the work done in book one, book two then spreads its wings and becomes bigger and far more robust in the sense of where it sits in the world and all the possibilities to be had. Where are the end of book one I was curious about book two, having finished book two I am now excited and eager to read book three. I have more questions, more investment, and the momentum has picked up as the stakes get higher.

It definitely won’t be an 18 month wait before I pick up Finale.

Briefly:

  • Even stronger than Caraval, I didn’t expect to like Tella based on what I saw in book one, but I actually loved her reckless approach to life on the basis that nothing mattered to her except her sister. There was a wonderful line in it, “Tella was the sister who would tear the world apart if anything happened to Scarlett, but if anything happened to Tella it would tear Scarlett apart.” That was a beautiful bit of writing and a lovely, succinct description of characters.
  • The world has got so much bigger in this book and I can’t wait to see how it expands further with the final book. I loved the mythology and the way it built around the Fates, and how that was inspired by tarot.
  • I also loved the chemistry between Tella and Dante. Reluctant feels are some of the best feels, particularly when you have two otherwise unfeeling characters, both of whom are dedicated to the single life, who needle each other and have the best relationship build.
  • There were a number of plot twists which were signalled from about halfway through, but the way they played out was gorgeous and there were still surprises in the resolutions.
  • If you liked Caraval but didn’t love it, so didn’t pick up Legendary, trust me when I say that Legendary feels so much bigger and is well worth your time.

Rating: 5/5 – I gave Caraval 4/5 because it was a decent book, and while this isn’t the end of the series this feels like a big step up in terms of expanding the world and the stakes, so I wanted to recognise that. I hope and expect that Finale will continue at this pace.

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