Includes spoilers for Caraval. None for Legendary.
I picked up Legendary by Stephanie Garber because I loved its prequel, Caraval. Dense and colourful with bright and dark magic, enchantment and people who are not what they pretend to be, the game Caraval provides a world characters as well as readers can escape to, get lost and loose a bit of themselves in.
Nevertheless, I was a little skeptical in view of Legendary at first. Though Caraval ended with enough of a cliffhanger to make me want to read on about the sisters Scarlett and Donatella Dragna’s adventures, I could not get to like the idea of the series‘ main character changing. Because, while cautious and guarded Scarlett had been Caraval’s protagonist, this was about to change in Legendary. Here, her sister Donatella would have her turn.
Caraval is the name of an enchanted game Scarlett participates in in the series‘ first book. Participants play several nights in a row. Caraval is staged once a year by the mysterious Master Legend, whose identity and real name is a well-guarded secret. Both sisters have been wishing to be invited to Caraval for many years. But when she finally receives an invitation and is granted access to Legend‘s magical world of Caraval, Scarlett mainly participates to save Donatella’s life. Because, before Legend started this year’s game of Caraval, he kidnapped Tella. The entire Caraval is built around her: Whichever participant manages to follow the right clues and finds her first wins the game. If Scarlett does not find her, Tella is going to die. During her mission of saving her sister, Scarlett has to work with Julian, a young man in whom she developes a love interest. She also meets her fiancé Count Nicolas d‘Arcy, to whom her father planned to marry her in an arranged marriage and several other people, Legend’s performers, who pretend to be someone they are not.
„like exquisite nightmares and stolen dreams, like the wings of fallen angels, and bottles of fresh moonlight.“Legendary, Stephanie Garber (125)
While Scarlett would do anything to save Tella, the way she thinks about and loves her extroverted and bold younger sister could not make me care for Tella and her rescue that much. Nevertheless, I loved the idea behind the story and the rich, detailed, seemingly overripe descriptions throughout the book. They made me feel as if I could touch the velvet gowns myself, smell the fragrance of roses and see Caraval’s rich nightly colours. As Legend kidnaps Tella, Caraval kidnapped me and I was dragged along Scarlett’s way through the facets and mysteries of the enchanted playing field she has stumbled on.
So I bought Legendary. And, unfortunately, was not in the mood for reading fantasy for quite some time afterwards. But when I listened to the podcast First Draft by Sarah Enni, I came across an Interview with Stephanie Garber and decided it was finally time to open Legendary, get caught in Legend’s mysterious games once more and give Tella a second chance.
In the sequel, Tella, who has died and been resurrected near the end of Caraval, has to fulfill a bargain she made with a criminal whom she now owes Legend’s name – a secret many tried but no-one succeeded to uncover yet. We follow Tella and Scarlett to the capital city Valenda, where the next Caraval is to be held on the occasion of the Meridian Empire’s Empress’s birthday. Tella has to win Caraval to uncover Legend’s identity – otherwise, she might lose her life once more, probably forever this time.
The sequel did not disappoint me in the least. After my initial reluctance to like Tella, I very soon found her even more relatable than I had found Scarlett before. While reading, I gradually realized that, in the prequel, Tella did not even appear often enough for the reader to get to know her well enough to judge her character.
Furthermore, my sudden liking for her has been significally influenced by some thoughts about love she utters right at the beginning of Legendary. I don’t think I’m spoiling anyone by saying that, after having found her mother’s Deck of Destiny as a little girl and turning over the card „Prince of Hearts“, Tella is convinced that the prince has cursed her and that therefore love is not for her. That drawing the card somehow took her right to fall in love away. As depressing as it may sound, after having stumbled over some very human Princes of Hearts (who, by the way, probably haven’t been nearly as good-looking and engaging Tella’s prince) before I read Legendary, I was feeling like love was not for me, either. At least not at the current time. So I identified a lot with Tella right at the book’s beginning, pulling strength and confirmation from the way she saw and judged young men and her relationship to them. Books can help a lot with things and feelings like this. Suddenly, my own situation felt much less depressing, even though I knew that Tella was only fictional and that I was far from having been cursed.
„But Tella wanted love about as much as she wished to contract a disease. There were no kisses worth dying for. No souls worth merging with.Legendary, Stephanie Garber (171)
There were many beautiful young men in the world, but Tella believed that none of them could be trusted with something as fragile, or valuable, as a heart.“
Apart from Tella’s boldness and her independent worldview, I, again, really liked Stephanie Garber’s intense descriptions. Throughout Legendary, she shows her ability to work with details and weave them into a nightly tapestry of darkly blooming and at the same time brightly sparkling magic. The second Caraval captivated me once more, bringing me to the vivid streets of Valenda this time.